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Loving Cup

May 19, 2010 3 comments

The Rolling Stones are re-releasing one of their best albums of all time, Exile on Main Street. This album was originally released in 1972. The band had to steal away to the south of France and record portions of it in Keith Richards’ villa due to drug allegations and tax problems back in England.

Do many of you know or like this album? Personally, I have always loved it. It’s one of my favorites.

But I have been a Stones fan for so much my life, that my favorite songs aren’t the ones that everyone knows. I’ve heard “Satisfaction“, “Get Off My Cloud“, and “Start Me Up“, etc. so many times that I sometimes forget how great these songs were when they were new.

My favorite Stones songs are the hidden gems – the 3rd or 4th on the back side of an album – the ones no one ever really talks about. “Indian Girl” on the back side of Emotional Rescue speaks of the civil war in Angola and Fidel Castro, and a little girl that has no food to eat cuz the soldiers ate it. “Highwire“, track 16 off of the 1991 live album release Flash Point speaks about watching the first gulf war on prime time while eating TV dinners. These are great songs.

Exile On Main Street has some of these hidden gems as well. Exile is a wonderful album that has songs ranging from gospel to blues to rock-n-roll. If you want to read more about the album re-release, check out this article here. Trust me, it’s worth the read.

As for me, this album has one of my favorite Rolling Stones songs of all time, “Loving Cup“.

“I’m the man on the Mountain, come on up
“I’m the plough man in the Valley, with a face full of mud
“Yes I’m fumblin’, and I know my car won’t start
“Yes I’m stumblin’, and I know I play a bad guitar

“Gimme little drink, from your Loving Cup
“Just one drink, and I fall down, drunk

I would love to have some excuse to dress up like Mick, in the old 1972 garb, feather boa, gangster hat, tight-fitting black pinstripe suit, ankle-boots, ruffled shirt, and a little eye make-up….and go sing some of those songs. That would be Sweet Virginia.

A publicity shot for “Exile on Main Street,’’ in 1972. (Norman Seeff)

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Cicero still teaching us today

May 13, 2010 5 comments

Cicero was an ancient Roman Consul. He served in the Roman government for many years. John Adams said that “all the ages of the world have not produced a greater statesman and philosopher united than Cicero“. In his works The Republic and The Laws, Cicero explains his thoughts on good government and leadership.

Two of my favorite points he makes are:
1. People should learn to do of their own accord what they are compelled to do by the law.
2. There is no other occupation in which human virtue approaches more closely the function of the gods than that of founding new States or preserving those already in existence.

In his time, many of his wealthy friends wondered why he would waste his time in politics. His answer is that good, brave, and high-minded men get involved in order to not be ruled by wicked men, and not to allow the republic to be destroyed by them.

There are so many people in our time that want to focus solely on making money and living “the good life.” For the most part, I have no complaints about this. But we also need to make sure and preserve the government that protects the freedoms and liberties we enjoy, not just try to get away with whatever we can and leave it to future generations to pick up the pieces.

When I read “good, brave and high-minded men get involved in order to not be ruled by wicked men”, it made me think of my brother Greg. He’s a guy like most of America: he has a family, a job, hobbies and interests, etc. But he also gets involved in protecting our republican form of government.

When the US Representative that represents Greg wasn’t voting the way most of the people in their district wanted based on their polls, he and his friends got involved. They made phone calls. They set-up websites and blogs. They called on their Rep for explanations of her votes. Their efforts were noticed by national media outlets and brought enough pressure on their Congressional Representative that she was finally forced to respond.

I asked him about the purpose of his involvement. Was he planning on running for office? Other political aspirations? His answer was that he just couldn’t sit by and let the elected officials keep doing whatever they wanted, and not be held accountable. He just couldn’t sit by and let it happen.

Shades of Cicero, perhaps?

Is this Cicero ... or my brother Greg?

Is this Cicero ... or my brother Greg?

The Power of Virtuous Communication

April 21, 2010 2 comments

Most if not all progress happens through conversation. New ideas need to be brought before colleagues. Concepts get discussed around boardrooms and back rooms. How we communicate with each other regarding ideas and concepts makes a big difference in their success or failure. How companies discover, discuss and implement solutions to problems ranging from implementing new technology to providing better customer service often makes or breaks the business. One could say that the most progressive companies can identify issues, and find solutions through communication and adaptation, quicker than their counterparts.

Successful communication is also the key to happy relationships. In a relationship with a spouse or significant other, the manner in which we resolve differences through communication can mean the difference between happiness and heartbreak.

The successful resolution of problems hinges on how we communicate. It is more than the words we say. What is the motivation behind our communication? What is our end goal as we communicate? Do we resist great ideas from colleagues because of petty rivalries? Do we undermine those around us because we want credit for new ideas and for finding the best solution? These kinds of attitudes are real and present in the workplace. It costs untold millions of dollars in lost opportunities and lost customers for businesses when company leaders remain focused on personal agendas rather than the ultimate good of the company. Do we resist honest communication with our significant other because we would rather defend our position to the bitter end than see it through their eyes and move forward together?

One definition of virtue is to fulfill the purpose we were created for. To help a company or spouse achieve their stated goals – their unique level of excellence – should be the end goal of our communication with those we communicate with. But how can this be accomplished?

Aristotle has provided a recipe to help us discover how to understand our world better, and achieve more progress, by communicating on a higher plane. This can be used to improve a relationship with a spouse, or to assist a particular company achieve new levels of success. Aristotle says that the best communication comes from those who can see things as they really are. And, the ability to see things as they truly are only comes to those of a good, moral character. The ability to contemplate things as they really are brings bad thinking to a stop, and lets good thinking begin. The key to this type of communication is to have what Aristotle calls “the beautiful” as our motivation.

The “beautiful” is not specifically defined by Aristotle, but he uses the Greek phrase “to kalon” (translated as “the beautiful”) to mean a certain moral rightness. It is what someone that has “right desire” and “right thinking” working together truly desires for himself and those around him. According to Aristotle, “the beautiful” is the end goal of virtuous actions. Therefore, those that can create the habit of virtuous action in their lives, keeping the end goal of the moral rightness and righteous desires – “the beautiful” – in mind, will be able to communicate on a higher plane. They will see things as they truly are, not through muddled, habitually bad thinking.

Working within this framework allows us to break out of bad habits. Instead of already having made our judgment based on our habitual way of looking at things, it allows us to wonder at the situations we find ourselves in. We wonder because we need to get away from our animal, instinctive responses of already knowing. With “the beautiful” as our motivation, there is no more defensiveness and self-preservation in our communication. It keeps us from forcing everything into supporting our self-serving opinions and our preconceived theories. Following Aristotle’s method frees us to stop thinking in a habitually bad way, and lets real thinking begin. We slow down our knee jerk reactions, and allow for time to find the communication that is truly lifting. Stephen Covey speaks about the short instants between environmental input and the response we choose to make. This means we have a reaction time in which we can choose to communicate in the best possible manner, reaching for “the beautiful.”

We can’t couch our communication behind hidden agendas of “what am I going to get out of this”, or “this will make me look really smart”, or “I’m going to prove I’m right no matter what.” When we have motivation other than “the beautiful” behind our communication, people can sense our lack of sincerity. Aristotle says that “the beautiful” is perceived by the senses: it is simply ‘just known’ when it exists or occurs. When we communicate within our hidden agendas, people can sense whether or not you truly have their best interests in mind. It doesn’t matter if you are using all the correct words. If the right motivation is not present, it can be sensed. Right reasoning and right desires both need to be present. The things we say and the stands we take depend on our moral virtue to make our aim right.

Following this pattern enables us to find the best path forward through our conversations. If our motivation is genuinely good, we will repair and maintain good relationships even if our choice of words is not always the best. We will also be able to find the intersection – the common ground – between different parties goals and purposes. Finding this common ground allows us to reach resolutions quicker, build bridges faster, and repair strained relationships that so often limit progress.

Russell Kirk says that order in the world starts with order in men’s own hearts. If there is right order in our own hearts – morally virtuous thoughts and desires – it will be manifest in our actions and communication because, as Aristotle states, virtue manifests itself in action.  Keeping “the beautiful” as the motivating factor in our interactions with our spouses and colleagues will allow us to reach new levels of progress and live happy, fulfilling lives.

Scenario for the President

March 29, 2010 2 comments
“QUICK!  Mr. President, bad policies for the past 20 years have dug us into a hole….and the brightest minds we have tell us we’re within 48 hours of the financial system freezing.  Make a decision:
1) Inject liquidity AS A LOAN to the system (Like we did for S&L crisis which turned a profit for the US Gov’t.  This was how the TARP plan was sold to the Administration – but it has clearly been hijacked since by Congress, Geithner, others.).
…or….
2)  Stand there and we’ll take a guess about just how far the market can crash.  But we’re being told it is as bad/worse than 1929.
QUICK…”

If you are standing on principles, the speed of the decision doesn’t matter as much.

I think the scenario sort-of makes one point: Government gets involved with “A” in mind (in this case the S&L loans or Financial Bailout.) First blush is positive. But as with most if not all government involvement, it gets hijacked, and turned into something not intended. Go back (choose the years) and we will see the examples. Income tax; FDR’s programs; Welfare; The Great Society programs; etc. etc. I don’t know them all.

My opinion? Given the above scenario, the President should choose 2, and let Lehman Brothers collapse. And he should have pressured the Fed to not get involved in helping bail them out. (Or maybe he didn’t know cuz it was secretive, but he could have found out, and fired the guy for doing it.) Also, allowing the Fed to facilitate JP Morgan Chase’s purchase of Bear Stearns for pennies on the dollar. Yes these banks should have failed. There’s no way that a banking system performing the kinds of stunts that they have been performing should have been bailed out with taxpayers money. You think laissez faire is adversely affected by uncertainty (absence of full information)? Absolutely it is. What about Keynesianism and other interventionist policies? Are they immune to the ails of uncertainty? Absolutely not. And the market forces will correct for any uncertainty a LOT quicker than a poor government policy that has become LAW and may take generations to overcome. We’re still paying for the ones from 60-70 years ago. In fact, the government injects it’s own uncertainty into the system, but more on that below.

We appear to have changed topics from Bush vs. the Constitution, and maybe for good reason after listening to Paul, Jeff and Deon’s points. One of the best conservative minds — possibly ever — was Edmund Burke. I bring him into the Constitution discussion because he advocated gradual change, but at the same time not destroying the pillars of freedom with our experimental Acts. I’m equating his mentioning of Experimental Acts of his time to the Patriot Acts of our time. Yes we have to change with the times as Burke says (e.g. we have to deal with terrorists), but according to him, it’s not worth destroying the pillars of liberty that we have built our society on in order to accomplish that change. If we do so, we are destroying the foundation upon which our nation is built.

In terms of the banking issues, absolutely let Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns fail. Don’t let the Fed get involved at all. The banks made bad business decisions. There is tons of evidence of corruption. Why inject loans into that? What is the economic principle that that decision is based on? In my opinion the decision was based on fear. Once again, we have a government trying — through their macro economic policies — to right the ship. “We can fix it. We can control the market forces.” And once again, the evidence is that they can’t. It might have stabilized some things for the time being, but anyone watching KNOWS with their gut that this glut of spending is going to have to be paid for at some point, and it’s going to be worse when it’s time to pay the piper. The Fear Move didn’t do anything but delay a market correction. Check out Karl Denninger if you’d like to read more.

AND, there are even some studies, like this one by the Stanford economist John Taylor, which purports to show (pdf) that the credit markets actually did not react all that badly to Lehman going under and that the crisis was really the product of market uncertainty about the effects of government action. So, the “market” reacted not all that badly to a market force of letting a bank go under, but the real market crisis started after the government decided to get involved to try to “control” the natural market forces? Add to this the fact that the bond market says it’s safer to lend to Warren Buffet than to Barak Obama, and I think we see what Keynesian fiscal policies bring to the table in terms of uncertainty.

See, now this makes sense to me.