A Perspective For The Big Picture

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
Ain’t nothing new, baby!

—Ecclesiastes 1,9

I’m taking Cindy’s mom back to Jacksonville and she asks me what I think will happen in the markets. I tell her. Now, she wants to know why I think it’s going down and what’s gonna make it do that.

Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations is my reply.

It’s a natural occurrence. A hungry, driven entrepreneur claws his way out of poverty, starts an enterprise, sticks to it through the Ramen noodle days and, with grit and a little luck, turns it into a fine business.

When it’s time to hang it up, the entrepreneur passes a great company on to his kids, who have heretofore enjoyed the amazing life that the successful business builder proudly gave them. With far less drive, and dubious work ethics, the heirs keep the thing going, sort of, in  between trips to their ski lodge or the pied a terre in Paris, until what is left of the company passes to the entrepreneur’s grandkids and finally falls apart, leaving the third generation destitute. It is not a mystery to anyone but the grandkids.

A similar tragedy will inevitably befall a nation dedicated to democracy and free enterprise because, where free will abides, human nature is immutable.

The children of the Great Depression had little to eat and nothing to wear. they walked out of destitute households and either rode the rails or scrambled to put together an economic life that made sense. Necessity molded their personalities.

They worked hard. My dad never asked for a job. “I said I want work,” he told me. He made it clear that it was not a job or a position he was requesting. It was work. And they gave him work. And he worked hard.

They were frugal. They had seen indebted parents devastated. They paid cash or saved until they could. My dad didn’t get a credit card until he was fifty, when the company issued him a Diner’s Club card to use for business entertainment.

The middle class in his generation accumulated great wealth, resulting in history’s largest ever transfer of inheritance assets to their kids, the Boomers. That transfer was the apotheosis of the cycle. Tom Brokaw named the generation that made the transfer The Greatest Generation. I see them as the luckiest generation. People are at their best when they have to struggle. It was just accident of birth that put them in the right era to act well.

The Boomers, jeez…what can be said, except that they have played the role that was assigned to them. They started with way more than their parents, and, instead of gratitude, their prevailing traits are narcissism, entitlement and dissatisfaction. And the traits continue, of course. The average middle class American has four credit cards, five times the mortgage their parents had, and not enough saved to retire in any kind of comfort. This is not an indictment of the children of the Greatest Generation. Human beings can’t stand success, and their misfortune was to have been born on third base. Not content, they try to steal home.

The result, inevitably, is bad behavior wherever an entitled, privileged class gains power. Government now serves plutocrats and screws the working class. In business, there is  Corporatism, a relatively new word, which  means drive the business for the exclusive wealth creation of the senior managers.

Ricky Gervais’ TV show, The Office, is where we learn about the culture of corporatism. Venkat Rao, analyzing the show, divides corporate employees in the show like this:

Losers are employees who see the hierarchy for what it is: a game where sociopathic managers and their sycophants maneuver themselves into power to exploit the remainder. Instead of buy-in, losers in this case opt for pay-for-minimum-time-in, and make a life for themselves away from work.

The clueless are serious workers who believe that loyalty, following the rules and hard work will result in fair recognition and compensation. They are the majority, which isn’t properly drawn in the picture. I was one of these, and there are millions of us in America who have been screwed by bosses. And  by bought and paid for politicians.

Corruption in politics and business, always an issue, have grown exponentially this era. The result is extreme inequality in the distribution of wealth and income between the elites and their politicians (Washington, DC sports the richest per capita zip code in the nation), and the rest of us.

The ratio of CEO compensation to average worker was 20 to 1 in 1950. In 2016 it was up to 276 to 1.

Why? because they could get away with it while clueless workers plodded along without noticing what they were doing, and, only lately, are noticing that middle class income has been stagnant since 1973. Finally, millions  are mad enough to revolt. The result is that Donald Trump, poster boy for the sociopath class, bamboozles people too pissed off to think straight into the preposterous notion that he can save them. Fat chance.

The other monster problem is debt. I’ve cited the statistics ad nauseam over the last few years. Suffice it to say, it is an epic bubble and no sector, government, corporate or private will escape the mother-of-all implosions when the next bust gets underway.

Best bet for when it happens: based on the Elliott Wave Chart of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the market is close to the top of the next to last phase of advance. Next should be a drop to correct this rally, followed by the final move to a top sometime later in the year. Following that, I look for 10 or more difficult years to unwind the market, debt and inequality excesses. It will be the 1930s all over again, of that I have no doubt. Forewarned is better.

Love to my children and friends,



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America Worst

The Zen Master would say if you want to change government, you have to aim at changing corporations, and if you want to change corporations, you first have to change the consumers. Whoa, wait a minute! the consumer? That’s me. You mean I’m the one who has to change?

–Ives Chouinard

We’re not what we used to be. Maybe we never were what we used to be. And now, I feel like a foreigner in my own land, having  never imagined that this country would elect a man like Trump to be president. Nicaragua, maybe, Moldova, sure, But The United States of America? I have friends and family, none of them the least bit deplorable, who decided that the right thing to do was vote for this despicable sub-human monster. Amazing. Not that I liked Hillary, I was just frightened at what a Trump presidency would bring. On the evidence so far, my fears were justified.

That said, this quintessential Ugly American is the perfect man for the moment. The end of a great advance in a civilization comes when the stable values that enabled it to flourish become so bastardized as to do more harm than good, and, desperate for change, we will listen to charlatans skilled  at pandering to our deepest dissatisfactions, selling themselves and their ability to make yuuge changes. Inevitably, they turn out to be bigly persuaders and lousy deliverers.

Trump won’t be the fixer. He is the Dynamic Value that brings about the collapse of America as a going concern. It will happen because his behavior is so egregious that people like me get up off the couch and call our lawmakers and express our concerns and otherwise get involved. That’s Trump’s contribution to change. Thank you, sir.

My thesis is based on three things: 1) The Wave pattern in the Dow Jones Industrial Average is tracing out what appear to be subdivisions of the final move to the top. One more small decline and another new high should cap the entire move, yielding to the next bear market. 2) Sentiment in the financial community is at or near all time highs, which happens WITHOUT FAIL at  important tops. If I were relying on a bank or brokerage firm for advice, I would stay the hell  away from them. 3)  The market run up since the election has been extraordinary, with price momentum indicators registering extremes not seen decades. Strong momentum off a bottom is bullish, and extremely bearish when it comes after an extended bull phase. Market players have been labeling this the Trump market–that’s not good. Trump comes on as a business guy who will get the economy growing again. Hoover had the same aura about him, and he presided over the worst bear market in our history.

It is a reliably consistent contrarian phenomenon at major peaks and bottoms that the expectations for the incoming president turn out to be dead wrong. Reagan was expected to put the nation into an inflationary collapse. He presided over one of our better economic periods.

There is a lot more in the financial and economic pictures to be concerned about, but this will do for now.



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At The Eve Of A Historical Turning Point

Suppose Trump fails to make America great again. His detractors will feel vindicated. His defenders will claim Force Majeure. Both will probably be half right.

The most likely outcome of forty-five’s tenure is that he is the Dynamic Value philosopher/writer Robert Pirsig talks about. Every organization, be it political or otherwise, develops a set of Stable Values which, over time, become denigrated. Entrenched interests exert enough power to prevent meaningful changes until the appearance of a Dynamic Value to shock the system into chaos. The change comes, not from the Dynamic Value, but from the collapse that it (or he) causes.

The Socionomic Theory of Finance posits that the final wave of the Grand Supercycle Bull Market that got underway in the mid 1700’s should peak this year. This wave, which began with the lows of 1932 had its most productive phase between 1941 and 1966. After the correction that ended in 1974, the fifth and final wave got underway, and as is normal in fifth waves, has been speculative, economically benefitting ever fewer people, with increasing debt and corruption.

Entrenched interests have fought to get more for themselves and succeeded. The majority of the population of the globe is fed up, now agitating for radical change. But desirable change in America is more likely to come after a bear market of a dimension the like of which no one alive has witnessed has bottomed. That bottom should be long after Trump has left office. We should be prepared for a very difficult time, and for tremendous disappointment on the part of those who believe Trump will give them what they want.



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Turning A New Leaf

We all sense it–something big is going on.

—From the jacket notes

Happy New Year!

God, yes, it has to better than 2016, the year of bombs and bullshit. If you’re like me, you’ve spent the last month watching re-runs of All In The Family. Anything to avoid reading the papers or watching the news on TV.

Like it or not, though, it’s a new year, and all the stubborn issues besetting the globe are as present as ever. So, I make this suggestion: Get Thomas Friedman’s new book, Thank You For Being Late, An Optimists Guide To Thriving In The Age Of Accelerations. It’s a very readable book. And, after you read it, take it to your book club, your school principals, your town mayor, and everyone else who can affect the community life where you live.


To save time, and because I can’t do any better at describing the force of the book, I’m quoting directly from the book’s jacket notes:

You feel it in your workplace. You feel it when you talk to your kids. You can’t miss it when you read the newspapers, or watch the news. Our lives are being transformed in so many realms all at once–and it is dizzying.

In Thank You For Being Late, a work unlike anything he has attempted before, Thomas L. Friedman has exposed the tectonic movements that are reshaping the world today and explains how to get the most out of them and cushion their worst impacts. You will never look at the world the same way again after you read this book: how you understand the news, the work you do, the education your kids need, the investments your employer has to make, and the moral and geopolitical choices our country has to navigate will all be refashioned by Friedman’s original analysis.

Friedman begins by taking us into his own way of looking at the world–how he writes a column. After a quick tutorial, he proceeds to write what could only be called a giant column about the twenty-first century. His thesis: to understand the twenty-first century, you need to understand that the planet’s three largest forces–Moore’s Law (technology), the Market (globalization), and Mother Nature (climate change and biodiversity loss)–are accelerating all at once. These accelerations are transforming five key realms: the workplace, politics, geopolitics, ethics, and community.

Why is this happening? As Friedman shows, the exponential increase in computing power defined by Moore’s Law has a lot to do with it. The year 2007 was a major inflection point: the release of the iPhone, together with advances in silicon chips, software, storage, sensors, and networking, created a new technology platform. Friedman calls this platform “the supernova”–for it is an extraordinary release of energy that is reshaping everything from how we hail a taxi to the fate of nations to our most intimate relationships. It is creating vast new opportunities for individuals and small groups to save the world–or to destroy it.

Thank You For Being Late is a work of contemporary history that serves as a field manual for how to write and think about this era of accelerations. It is also an argument for “being late”–for pausing to appreciate this amazing historical epoch we are passing through and to reflect on its possibilities and dangers. To amplify this point, Friedman revisits his Minnesota hometown in his moving concluding chapters: there, he explores how communities can create a “topsoil of trust” to anchor their increasingly diverse and digital populations.

With his trademark vitality, wit, and optimism, Friedman shows how we can overcome the multiple stresses of an age of accelerations–if we slow down, if we dare to be late and use the time to reimagine work, politics and community. Thank You For Being Late is Friedman’s most ambitious book–and an essential guide to the present and the future.

As he is reading the book now, my good friend Dave Fisher messages me:  To say “I can use this in my work” vastly understates the case. I agree, Dave.




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Data Fitting: A Scurillous Practice

Buy some good stock, if it goes up, sell it.
If it don’t go up,don’t buy it

—Will Rogers

An international brokerage firm with hundreds of thousands of fee paying clients is out with its quarterly report. The headline for the report is, Staying Invested Beats Market Timing. Inside the report, the headline’s argument is supported by a listing of the total returns for each decade, starting in the 1930s. Most decades showed a profit, some were outstanding. The cumulative return for the entire period was 10,055%, very nice, and useless, other than to keep clients invested and paying fees.

To begin with, nobody will be fully invested for eighty-six years. More likely twenty-five to forty years will be the time frame. The most important aspect of any long term, fully invested plan is the level at which significant amounts are invested. For example, had an investor gotten fully invested late in 1929, one year earlier in the data set shown, a stock portfolio would have declined 89% by May, 1932, and been underwater for 24 years. The Dow Jones Industrial Average crashed from a ’29 high of 390 to a low of 41 during that period, and did not recover until 1956. Imagine the stress!

Let’s say an average total return–appreciation plus dividends–for a stock portfolio averages 12% a year over ten years. That’s a cumulative total return of 210%. Now, say the portfolio loses 50% in a two year bear market (not uncommon). The original portfolio of $100,000 which grew to $310,584 in ten years, would drop to $155,924 during the bear market. To get back to the top at 12% would require 6 1/2 more years. OK, but this is just pencil pushing, because investors can be counted on to act emotionally, which eventually skews results negatively.

The average investor will not be comfortable enough to adhere to a fully invested plan until the market has been rising for years already. Comes a short bear market, she follows the advice. The market rises to new highs, vindicating her steadfastness. Then, inevitably, a more serious crash comes and she holds until she is almost wiped out and can’t stand the pain, and liquidates just to get relief, right when she should have been putting a cash reserve to work in a low risk opportunity (buying when most are selling).

It is high irony that the brokerage firm is touting this strategy at what looks to be an approaching top of major proportions. One that will result in losses that match or exceed the losses between 1929 and 1932.

If I owned any stock (I don’t), I would put firm stop losses below current value and I would not let a broker with no skin in my game try to talk me out of it.



I believe investors should be in charge of their own destiny. No one should consider this information to be a recommendation to buy or sell any securities whatsoever.

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A Moment of Great Significance

They came to The Netherlands in the fifteenth century. They were Sephardic Jews fleeing the horrors of the Inquisition in Spain, their homeland. They were welcomed as undocumented immigrants. They were excellent traders and merchants and, by the early 1600s, had made Amsterdam the financial capital of the Western world. Having stupidly shot itself in the foot with its treatment of these folks, Spain’s economy and global eminence went to near zero.

The developing financial market in Amsterdam, on the other hand, emerged as a method for capital allocation that is still in use today, and the birthplace of market analysis in the Western world.

Three hundred years later, empiricist Ralph Nelson Elliott observed a regularity in the seeming chaos in the price movements of stock market averages. Tracking prices across the continuum of Amsterdam, London, and New York, Elliott identified a regular growth pattern in the markets, consisting of five waves–one, three and five up as impulse waves, interspersed with waves two and four down as corrections from periods when markets get overextended.

This pattern, Elliott observed, occurs at multiple degrees of trend, from trends covering centuries, down to those completing in as little as a few minutes. He named the pattern with the greatest observable amplitude Grand Supercycle, and that is the one we need to be concerned with today.

Grand Supercycle Wave I began in about 1610, peaking in London in 1720 with the collapse of the South Sea Bubble and the demise of the Bank of England. Wave II of the pattern held the financial market and the Western commercial world in a depression for over fifty years. Grand Supercycle Wave III got underway in 1874. Within Wave III, a five wave Supercycle bull has been underway. Wave 1 of the smaller cycle topped in 1929. Wave 2 bottomed in 1932. Wave 3 climbed to a top in 1966. Wave 4 required eight years to take the market through several swings from a peak of Dow 1,000, down to the 1974 low of 574. Wave 5 of this Supercycle has been underway since ’74, and now, after five waves of cycle dimension, appears to be coming to a close.

Thursday afternoon, Bob Prechter, the most eminent Elliotteer extant, published a notice saying that he believed the Dow Jones Industrial Average was tracing out an ending diagonal triangle. this is what he saw:


To the casual observer, there is nothing special about the pattern contained by the orange lines. To an Elliott Wave analyst the pattern is a potential Ending Diagonal Triangle. The analysis is supported by considerable data providing evidence of exhaustion of the move.His comment:

I think we need to consider the market to be at or very near the end of wave 5 of (5) of V of (V) from 1932–which will also cap the Grand Supercycle rise of Wave III from 1784.

The translation from Elliottspeak is, We’re gonna fuckin’ die!

What follows is Wave IV, which is expected to ultimately bottom in the vicinity of the 1929 peak of Dow 391. Fourth waves, typically swing back and forth a bit on the way to their correction low. I do not have a graph of a fourth wave of Grand Supercycle dimension, so I’ll use the 1966-74 Supercycle graph to give an idea of what we might expect:


First, for disclosure: None of this essay is a recommendation to any one to make any investment moves whatsoever. This is an exercise in probability. I approach every investment I make for myself in  terms of probability. I rate the probability of the course I’ve overlaid in the ’66-’74 chart as follows:

December 2016 as the top of Grand Supercycle III: Very high
An initial crash to around Dow 3400: Very high
An ultimate low of Dow 400: Extremely high

The probable dates for the first and final lows in Wave IV: no assigned probability.

The levels of decline are to be found in the ratio analysis that is part of the Elliott Wave Principle, which does not say anything about how much time will elapse from top to bottom. The expected levels, together with supporting momentum and sentiment data will come when they come.

Cindy and I will hold cash until at least the interim low. If things go well, we may be able to be in stocks through the second rally. I do not expect to be alive for the trip to the final low. If we can make that one trade, or even part of it, I think we will have done all we can do. For now, the main thing, the only thing, is capital. preservation.

If we do see the end of Grand Supercycle Wave III before 45’s inauguration, we can expect him to be dealing with the worst depression since the 1700s. That, along with the 75 lawsuits presently against him should keep him busy, even as he scrambles to ship all the brown people out of the country to open up plenty of jobs cleaning toilets in seedy motels for white guys.

Maybe he’ll speed things up with an executive order to start a new Inquisition. Send Muslims to the rack unless they recant and become Evangelical Christians.

America’s gonna be great again. Can’t wait.






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Socionomics: The Post-Election Outlook

Does anybody imagine that, come Tuesday, it’ll all be over? Would that such were the case, no matter who is elected president.

Conventional forms of analysis and forecasting the major trends in politics, the economy and the markets start with the premise that the outlook depends on who is in power in politics and in the financial system. This is rarely useful, although economists will work like hell to fit data to circumstance to prove their case, while conveniently sweeping their error rates under the rug.

Socionomics, on the other hand, holds that the driving force in matters of uncertainty is society’s unconscious herding instinct. The primordial desire is to survive and thrive and, in uncertainty, the overwhelming influence is how the herd (us) feels over time. A cursory examination of public sentiment over the past 84 years (1932-2016) reveals a series of mood extremes that accompany important turning points–very optimistic at tops, extremely pessimistic at bottoms.

If you will just accept this observation for the moment, I will tell you what the current analysis of America’s situation foretells. Having made a series of swings leading to interim tops in 2000 and 2008, the best case now is that social mood has turned from optimistic extremes to the beginning of a very dark period. Lots of exogenous reasons to point to, until we recognize that the dysfunction in public and corporate governance that besets the country today is the result of the overly optimistic mood that allowed society to complacently let it happen.

Fixing the system is a function of a determined effort to throw the bums out everywhere, that should be apparent. Less obvious is how it is likely to happen. Presidents are not problem solvers. They are gatekeepers during good times, making decisions that reflect the mood of largess, and recipients of the blame when the economy and the markets fall.

From the perspective of the Elliott Wave Principle, the stock market is within a few points and a couple of months of a top so major that, after it rolls over, no one reading this is likely to see the Dow Jones Industrial Average at 18,000 again in their remaining life.

A bear market will surprise few readers, given the steady weakening of the underlying economy: 90% of the new job creation in the last four years has been for part time jobs at minimum wage. Almost every new job of this kind is going to a worker who already has one or more jobs and must work multiple gigs just to pay rent. It sucks, frankly.

What may be a surprise is the projected form of the bear market: a series of huge, multi-year swings resembling a tiger viciously swinging the goat in his jaws back and forth to hasten the end of its life by ripping it apart.

If we make a top before yearend, stocks should be in a relentless fall for 4-5 years, then rise in an incredible rally for a couple of years to somewhere short of the current high, only to fall back again and make new lows. The process will likely repeat a couple of times, finally bottoming 10-12 years from now, making a final low well below 574, the 1974 low in the Dow. After that, a new bull market will begin with social mood totally exhausted, and totally fearful of the future. It will be a terrific time for my grandchildren to invest and start businesses.

Socionomics posits that this will happen no matter who wins the election on Tuesday. Further, in 2020, the incumbent will lose in a landslide if he/she has not already been impeached. So, don’t feel bad if you didn’t pick the winner.

It won’t make a damn bit of difference.



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The Nice America

Sure: that beautiful American word

—Delmore Schwartz

I had thought about leaving America for a few weeks-maybe hiding out in Belize until the nastiness surrounding the election dies down. What stopped me was reading and re-reading Roger Cohen’s recent column in the Times:

“Delmore Schwartz, the poet, wrote of “the beautiful American word, Sure.”

To anyone raised as I was in the crimped confines of a wearier continent, that little word is indeed a thing of beauty, expressing a sense of possibility, an embrace of tomorrow, openness to the stranger, and a readiness for adventure that no other country possesses in such degree. It is the most concise expression of the optimism inherent in the idea.”

It’s nice to be reminded that this country has a good heart. I grew up in foreign countries-five of them-and it was made clear to me that the generosity of spirit embodied in the way we make a phrase out of this word is distinctively American:

“Will you do this for me?”


It is the uncomplicated response of the person who doesn’t have to calculate the cost/benefit of helping a neighbor, or, for that matter, a stranger. Most of the time it is offered selflessly, and the helper is embarrassed if she gets anything other than an equally simple thanks.

Kudos are not the point, of course, but now and then they serve to remind someone that they are participants in a good manner of acting. Can’t say I’ve done much in my life that was award worthy, but, late in my tour of duty in  the Marine Corps, I was given a Letter of Commendation.

I had been detached to Pearl Harbor Submarine Base in Honolulu as a liason instructor, shepherding  a new group of Recon Marines through diving school. Part of the training included doing buoyant ascents in a 120 foot tower to simulate escaping from a submarine. While I was there, the personnel in charge of the tower were concerned about how to deal with  a contingent of Spanish sailors there for the training. Nobody spoke Spanish. “I can do it,” I said. And I did.

The letter said, “Corporal Roth displayed a “can do” attitude representing the highest ideals of his service.” Awesome. Not that it was a big deal, I am bilingual. I’m just grateful that, in that moment, my instinct was to step up.

I’d like to think that I’m that way all the time, but, the fact is that when I was going through that training myself , two years prior, I got drunk,  showed up at morning formation in a sad state, and was not permitted to make the big ascent on graduation day. My commanding officer told our gunnery sergeant he considered my actions a personal affront. Maybe so, sorry.

On this trip, after getting the Spanish sailors through the training, I was hanging out with the sailors that ran the school. One of them recalled an earlier group of Marines that came through. He said, “I remember there was one Marine that got fucked up and didn’t get to do the last day of training.””Yeah, that was me,” I said.

Progress, is what I seek, not perfection.




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The Wiser Man

I got a jump rope. That thing’s just a rope, man.
YOU gotta make the jump thing happen.

—Mitch Hedberg

We put the storm shutters we bought after the ’04 hurricanes up yesterday and left town. We are with Cindy’s mom in Jacksonville. In about five hours the force of Hurricane Matthew will hit our home and I believe we may come home to a bad situation. This is a good moment to study the principles of recovery that need to be taken to survive catastrophe of any kind.

Laurence Gonzales wrote them in his extraordinary book, Deep Survival, Who Lives, who Dies, and Why. The survivors he studied did these things and survived horrendous situations:


  1. Perceive, believe (look, see, believe). Even in the initial crisis, survivors’ perceptions and cognitive functions keep working. They might notice the details and may even find some humorous or beautiful. If there is any denial, it is counterbalanced by a solid belief in the clear evidence of their senses. They immediately begin to recognize, acknowledge, and even accept the reality of their situation. “I’ve broken my leg, that’s it. I’m dead,” as Joe Simpson (chapter 13) put it. They may initially blame forces outside themselves, too; but very quickly dismiss that tactic and recognize that everything, good and bad, emanates from within. They see opportunity, even good, in their situation. They move through denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance very rapidly. They “go inside.” Bear in mind, though, that many people, such as Debbie Kiley (chapter 11), may have to struggle for a time before they get there.
  2. Stay calm (use humor, use fear to focus). In the initial crisis, survivors are making use of fear, not being ruled by it. Their fear often feels like and turns into anger, and that motivates them and makes them sharper. They understand at a deep level about being cool and are ever on guard against the mutiny of too much emotion. They keep their sense of humor and therefore keep calm.
  3. Think/analyze/plan (get organized; set up small, manageable tasks). Survivors quickly organize, set up routines, and institute discipline. In successful group survival situations, a leader emerges often from the least likely candidate. They push away thoughts that their situation is hopeless. A rational voice emerges and is often actually heard, which takes control of the situation. Survivors perceive that as being split into two people and they “obey” the rational one. It begins with the paradox of seeing reality—how hopeless it would seem to an outside observer—but acting with the expectation of success.
  4. Take correct, decisive action (be bold and cautious while carrying out tasks). Survivors are able to transform thought into action. They are willing to take risks to save themselves and others. They are able to break down very large jobs into small, manageable tasks. They set attainable goals and develop short term plans to reach them. They are meticulous about doing those tasks well. They deal with what is within their power from moment to moment, hour to hour, day to day. They leave the rest behind.
  5. Celebrate your successes (take joy in completing tasks). Survivors take great joy from even the smallest successes. That is an important step in creating an ongoing feeling of motivation and preventing the descent into hopelessness. It also provides release from the unspeakable stress of a true survival situation.
  6. Count your blessings (be grateful—you’re alive). This is how survivors become rescuers instead of victims. There is always someone else they are helping more than themselves, even if that someone is not present. One survivor I spoke to, Yossi Ghinsberg, who was lost for weeks in the Bolivian jungle, hallucinated about a beautiful companion with whom he slept with each night as he traveled. Everything he did, he did for her.
  7. Play (sing, play mind games, recite poetry, count anything, do mathematical problems in your head). Since the brain and its wiring appear to be the determining factor in survival, this is an argument for expanding and refining it. The more you have learned and experienced of art, music, poetry, literature, philosophy, mathematics and so on, the more resources you will have to fall back on. Just as survivors use patterns and rhythm to move forward in the survival voyage, they use the deeper activities of the intellect to stimulate, calm, and entertain the mind. Counting becomes important, too, and reciting poetry or even a mantra can calm the frantic mind. Movement becomes dance. One survivor who had to walk a long way counted his steps, one hundred at a time, and dedicated each hundred to another person he cared about. Stockdale cites “love of poetry” as an important quality for enduring. “You thirst to remember,” he wrote. “The clutter of all the trivia evaporates from your consciousness and with care you can make deep excursions into past recollections….Verses were hoarded and gone over each day….The person who came into this experiment with reams of already memorized poetry was the bearer of great gifts. ”Survivors often cling to talismans. They search for meaning, and the more you know already, the deeper the meaning. They engage the crisis almost as a game. They discover the flow of the expert performer, in whom emotion and thought balance each other in producing action. ”Careful, careful,” they say. But they act joyfully and decisively. Playing also leads to invention, and invention may lead to a new technique, strategy, or a piece of equipment that could save you.
  8. 8. See the beauty (remember: it’s a vision quest). Survivors are attuned to the wonder of the world. The appreciation of beauty, the feeling of awe, opens the senses. When you see something beautiful, your pupils actually dilate. This appreciation not only relieves stress and creates strong motivations, but it allows you to take in new information more effectively.
  9. Believe that you will succeed (develop a deep conviction that you’ll live). All the practices just described lead to this point: Survivors consolidate their personalities and fix their determination. Survivors admonish themselves to make no more mistakes, to be very careful, and to do their very best. They become convinced they will prevail if they do those things.
  10. Surrender (let go of your fear of dying: “put away the pain). Survivors manage pain well. Lauren Elder (chapter 13), who walked out of the Sierra Nevada after surviving a plane crash, wrote that she “stored away the information, My arm is broken.” That sort of thinking is what John Leach calls “resignation without giving up. It is survival by surrender.” Joe Simpson recognized that he would probably die. But it had ceased to bother him, and so he went ahead and crawled off the mountain anyway.
  11. Do whatever is necessary (be determined; have the will and the skill). Survivors have meta-knowledge: They know their abilities and do not over- or underestimate them. They believe that anything is possible and act accordingly. Play leads to invention, which leads to trying something that might have seemed impossible. When the plane in which Lauren Elder was flying hit the top of a ridge above 12,000 feet, it would have seemed impossible that she could get off alive. She did it anyway, including having to down-climb vertical rock faces with a broken arm. Survivors don’t expect or even hope to be rescued. They are coldly rational about using the world, obtaining what they need, doing what they have to do.
  12. Never give up (let nothing break your spirit). There is always one more thing you can do. Survivors are not easily frustrated. They are not discouraged by setbacks. They accept that the environment (or the business climate or their health) is constantly changing. They pick themselves up and start the entire process over again, breaking it down into manageable bits. Survivors always have a clear reason for going on. They keep their spirits up by developing an alternate world made up of rich memories to which they can escape. They mine their memory for whatever will keep them occupied. They come to embrace the world in which they find themselves and see opportunity in adversity. In the aftermath, survivors learn from and are grateful for the experience they’ve had.
  13. (My Rule): Get the book. Read Laurence Gonzales for his magnificent prose, uplifting true stories of surviving, and meticulous research on what gets us through bad times.

Good luck and God bless all,


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On Being A Half-Assed Racist

It will all go back to normal if we put our nation first…
The trouble with normal is it always gets worse

—Bruce Cockburn, The Trouble With Normal (1981)

It’s 1952 and I’m an impressionable 13 year-old suddenly in Texas. I was happy living in Uruguay, but I’ve just been sentenced by well-meaning parents to get educated at a Southern Baptist boarding school, an institution imbued with a culture that is as foreign to me as Uruguayan must be to Southern Baptist Texans.

My classmates are mostly white Texans, staunchly prejudiced against anyone less white than they. Wanting to fit in, I parody their behavior, making fun of Negro mannerisms (niggerisms) with stupid enthusiasm. I comport myself well as a racist. I don’t question myself.

A year or so later, I’m visiting my big sister in New Orleans. Late one night, I board a street car on Canal Street. A stop or two down Canal, a drunk Negro boards, shuffles half-way down the isle and slumps down in front of the placard on the seat back that reads Whites Only.

“Get back a the sign,” the driver says. Drunk doesn’t move.

“Boy, you better move,” the driver says. Surly stare from the Negro.

Driver gets off the trolley, walks over to a phone booth and calls the cops. Minutes later, a paddy wagon with four cops arrives. The cops rush aboard, jerk the Negro off the Whites Only seat, drag him off the trolley, slam him onto the pavement and beat the living shit out of him with night sticks. They truss him in a straight-jacket, throw him in the back of the paddy wagon and drag his ass off to who knows where–fling him in the Missippi river, for all I know.

It is frightening. I nearly vomit. I’ve never seen such violence done to a human being. I feel somehow violated myself, but do not register the injustice, being still a semi-racist.

Now its 1957, and I’m a Marine getting a transfer from Charlie Company, Fifth Marines, to First Force Recon Company. The other Marine transferring with me is Ted Davis, a Negro. Ted and I spend the next three years practically joined at the hip through all the training and other macho bullshit that constitutes being a badass Marine. We get out and, by coincidence, both wind up in the San Francisco Bay area. We meet a couple of times, nothing special. How do I feel about Ted? He’s a good guy. Do I think he’s less than me? No. What is it, then? I’m still stuck with some kind of vague prejudice I can’t quite describe, even now.

Sixty years later, I am no longer a half-assed racist. How did that happen? I really can’t say. Reading Pat Conroy’s first book, The River Is Wide was important. Conroy, a South Carolina boy, went through a metamorphosis as a result of his experiences as a teacher in an all Negro school. He understood, and conveyed without preaching, the corrosive futility of holding prejudice towards a race.

I was lucky. Racial prejudice is a visceral attitude, not a rational position. My prejudice was flimsy, insubstantial. It would not hold up against reason, so it just got tired and wore off. Nothing to feel self-righteous about.

I have friends who are fourth generation Southerners. Their prejudice emanates from tradition. If you love and respect your Grand Daddy, and he cites holy scripture to support the claim that Negroes are inferior to whites, well, you’ve got to deny your heritage if you aspire to change your convictions.

Where I get to depends, in part, on where I start from. Owning my truth helps.


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