Charlie's Blog: March 2015

3.31.2015

The Most Valuable Life Skill


Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.”
1 CORINTHIANS 15:33

In life, you need many skills to survive and thrive. A work ethic is one. Brains are another. Fortitude is a key one. But if I had to pick one that is the most valuable it would be this. You have to have or develop the ability to remove bad people from your life.

I have numerous stories and tales of people who had their lives turned upside down and destroyed by the people who "loved" them. For instance, a man who batters his wife may claim to love his wife, but we know he doesn't because love doesn't smash his wife's face in until her jaw is broken and her eyes are swollen shut. For that woman, the problem will not be finding a shelter for abused women but resisting the urge to return to him as he says he is sorry and manipulates her back into his clutches. This is when the most valuable life skill is needed.

When you are in a situation like that, you have to learn how to cut it off inside. You have to learn to forgive, but forgiveness does not require you to trust them again. Once someone does something heinous like this, you need to remove that person from your life. It could be the cheating spouse or the drug addicted relative. These people do need help, but that help is not coming from their victim which is you.

The measure of a person in your life is simple. Does this person make me better? Or, does this person make me worse? You can't merely write someone off because they are annoying. They have to make you worse as a person or put you in a bad shape. It behooves the wise person to surround himself or herself with good people while expunging the bad people.


I find that it helps to do a visualization when it comes time to get someone out of your life. Imagine the person who does you harm as a small pebble in your hand. You are on the deck of a great ship, and you let that stone drop into the vastness of the ocean. Now, think about retrieving that stone again. Impossible? You bet. That is how it should be with that bad person. That person should be like that pebble in your mind. They are gone. Always return to this visualization when you consider the hurt or the temptation to have them back in your life. Let it drop into that black sea. In time, you won't even remember what that person looks like.

There will be other people in your life who are mutual connections between you and the bad person. They may urge you to patch things up. These people are not your friends. Sometimes, to remove a cancer, you can't just take out the tumor. You have to cut out an organ or a limb. Likewise, these false friends and family members need to be cut out as well. This will seem severe, but the cancer will be back before you know it.

If you are successful at the bad person removal, you will find yourself in a zone of peace and tranquility. Cherish it and protect it at all costs. I find that most people got involved with someone bad because they could not handle the boredom of this tranquility. But after living through the horror, you learn to appreciate that living in peace is about as good as it gets in this life.

As a postscript, what do you do when the bad person stalks you? This becomes a matter of law enforcement and also personal protection. I believe strongly that people should learn martial arts and lawfully carry a concealed weapon. Pepper spray and stun guns are also helpful. It is a rare thing to have to resort to such means, but we know that it is not unknown. Most murders are committed by someone close to the victim.

Bad people do not belong in your life. Learn how to cut it off with them and get them away from you. Peace requires strength and vigilance. Become strong. Remain strong. You will survive and find yourself in a better place.

3.30.2015

Junk Drawer


Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind.
BERNARD BARUCH

The long things I write become essays for the blog, and the short things I write become tweets for my Twitter feed. But, sometimes, there are things that are between that are too short for an essay but too long for a tweet. These are the odds and ends in the junk drawer of my brain, so I am putting them here.



1. Facebook is evil.

This struck me as I was listening to a news report on the radio about the damaging psychological effects on children from being on Facebook. Basically, kids are cruel to each other, and Facebook is a forum for cruelty. Then, there is the issue of Facebook envy as people post updates and pics from their fabulous lives while leaving out the bad stuff like hangovers and divorces. Finally, Facebook is a gigantic invasion of privacy and thief of time. I quit Facebook sometime ago, and I use Twitter now to post the hundred items I like each day. Twitter is a much better platform because it is virtually free of the evils of Facebook. The only real victims on Twitter are drunk celebrities with smartphones.



2. Frivolous hobbies.

I was over at a friend's house to purchase some used tools, and I realized that most clutter comes from frivolous hobbies. There's nothing wrong with having outside interests to fill one's leisure time, but it seems that people rarely can pick one or two and stick with them. This leads to that bag of rusty golf clubs in the garage next to the tennis rackets collecting dust. This may expand into the jet ski, the bass boat, the motorcycle, and the home gym that are also unused. Then, there is the attic with the decaying musical instruments. What makes all this sad/tragic/pathetic is that all this stuff represents so many dreams and good intentions that are now one gigantic colossal waste. I have learned to not start or attempt new hobbies or projects without a period of reflection at the start. I ask myself if I am really going to pursue this thing or merely buy things to accumulate in storage. 99% of the time I come to the conclusion that I am going to be a clutterbug instead of a hobbyist, so I abandon the hobby before the start. The result is far less clutter.



3. Japanese flip phones.

Recently, stories have been coming out of Japan that smartphone sales are declining while flip phone sales are growing. A lot of words have been spent on trying to explain the retro phenomenon from high data fees to an aging population. I think all of these reasons are wrong. The simple fact is that the form of the flip phone is the ideal one for a cellphone. Your typical smartphone is a slab of exposed glass waiting to be destroyed, so people end up buying expensive cases to protect their fragile devices. Yet, the clamshell nature of the flip phone is the best protection for a phone which is why they are so durable. But the real secret of the Japanese return to flip phones is the fact that flip phones there are much better allowing you to do many of the things you can do on a smartphone. These phones are hybrids of a flip phone and a smartphone. Will they ever come to the US? Probably not. Carriers make too much money from replacing broken smartphones.


4. Squirrel shoes.

The picture above is an image of my favorite shoes. I got these on a trip to Rack Room Shoes, and I think these things are genius. Sneakers are comfortable, but they look awful on an adult. Dress shoes look good, but they are not comfortable especially on long walks. I got these things because my work boots were not good for the long walks I take on my trips or "squirrels" with my wife. So, I bought these things, and they are my number one shoe. I wear them everywhere. They are not hip or fashionable, but I can wear them just about anywhere including church. Basically, they are brown sneakers. I recommend them.



5. New old computer.

My old Windows XP machine finally bit the dust. I replaced it with another desktop from HP running Windows 7. I know. This setup has zero sex appeal. In fact, people have snickered and laughed when they hear about my new computer. It isn't a laptop. It isn't an iPad. It is not an iMac or a Macbook Pro, and the thing is that I have not noticed much difference between 7 and XP because 90% of what I do is done through Google Chrome. I was waiting for Windows 10, but I think it will be little more than Windows 8 with a Start button. People laugh at me, but here's the thing. Windows 7 has 55.99% share of the market. Add that to the 19.15% share of the market that XP has and the 2.11% that Vista has, and unsexy non-touch Windows machines comprise 77.25% of the computers running today. I suspect that the bulk of these machines are in businesses. Eventually, these machines have to be replaced, and the preference for these businesses have been those boring Windows 7 machines. I love boring. Give me boring over sexy anyday.

That's it for the junk drawer. It's now empty. When it fills up again, I'll do another one.

3.26.2015

The Discipline of Suffering


The sufferings endured for God are the greatest proof of our love for Him.
ST. ALPHONSUS MARIA DE LIGUORI

It is a tradition of Lent to pray the Stations of the Cross. There are fourteen of them, and they tell the story of Jesus on the way to the cross to die. The practice grew out of the pilgrimage to Jerusalem where the pilgrims would visit these sites and say prayers. As the Holy Land became impossible to visit over time, the stations were erected inside of churches which is why every Catholic parish has the stations on display on the walls. I recommend that everyone pray and contemplate the Way of the Cross. It teaches you how to suffer.

The last time I contemplated the Way of the Cross I was struck by something that never really occurred to me. In all that Jesus endured, He did not complain a single time. The closest we come to a complaint is when Jesus cries out, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?" People do not understand why Jesus cries this out, but it becomes clear that this cry was a quotation from Psalm 22. Obviously, our Lord wished for us to read this. Here it is:

PSALM 22
My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?
Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning.
O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer;
And by night, but I have no rest.
Yet You are holy,
O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel.
In You our fathers trusted;
They trusted and You delivered them.
To You they cried out and were delivered;
In You they trusted and were not disappointed.
But I am a worm and not a man,
A reproach of men and despised by the people.
All who see me sneer at me;
They separate with the lip, they wag the head, saying,
“Commit yourself to the Lord; let Him deliver him;
Let Him rescue him, because He delights in him.”
Yet You are He who brought me forth from the womb;
You made me trust when upon my mother’s breasts.
Upon You I was cast from birth;
You have been my God from my mother’s womb.
Be not far from me, for trouble is near;
For there is none to help.
Many bulls have surrounded me;
Strong bulls of Bashan have encircled me.
They open wide their mouth at me,
As a ravening and a roaring lion.
I am poured out like water,
And all my bones are out of joint;
My heart is like wax;
It is melted within me.
My strength is dried up like a potsherd,
And my tongue cleaves to my jaws;
And You lay me in the dust of death.
For dogs have surrounded me;
A band of evildoers has encompassed me;
They pierced my hands and my feet.
I can count all my bones.
They look, they stare at me;
They divide my garments among them,
And for my clothing they cast lots.
But You, O Lord, be not far off;
O You my help, hasten to my assistance.
Deliver my soul from the sword,
My only life from the power of the dog.
Save me from the lion’s mouth;
From the horns of the wild oxen You answer me.
I will tell of Your name to my brethren;
In the midst of the assembly I will praise You.
You who fear the Lord, praise Him;
All you descendants of Jacob, glorify Him,
And stand in awe of Him, all you descendants of Israel.
For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted;
Nor has He hidden His face from him;
But when he cried to Him for help, He heard.
From You comes my praise in the great assembly;
I shall pay my vows before those who fear Him.
The afflicted will eat and be satisfied;
Those who seek Him will praise the Lord.
Let your heart live forever!
All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord,
And all the families of the nations will worship before You.
For the kingdom is the Lord’s
And He rules over the nations.
All the prosperous of the earth will eat and worship,
All those who go down to the dust will bow before Him,
Even he who cannot keep his soul alive.
Posterity will serve Him;
It will be told of the Lord to the coming generation.
They will come and will declare His righteousness
To a people who will be born, that He has performed it.

This Psalm was a prophecy of what Jesus would do on the cross, so the cry was most likely a direction for us to read the psalm. God did not forsake His son. Protestants put the forsaken spin on this because of their doctrine of penal substitution which is the belief that God poured out His wrath upon Jesus to pay for our sins. This is a grievous error. It colors and distorts the Passion and also renders null and void our sufferings in this life.


The true and correct doctrine is that Jesus offered Himself up as a sacrifice to the Lord. God did not punish Jesus for what you did. Instead, Jesus offered Himself up to atone for what you did. If anyone punished our Lord, it was you and me. This begs a question. What is atonement?

It helps to first contemplate sin. What is sin? We can cite the Ten Commandments or other rules, but they do not get at the heart of the nature of sin. Sin is the hatred of God. When we sin, we hate God. Since all have sinned, we have all hated God. Despite the arguments of Calvinists, God cannot hate us. He loves us. The problem is that we do not always see that love which is why you get a poem like Psalm 22. And then, you start to understand why Jesus quotes it from the cross. In the cross, we see that God has not forsaken us. The cross was God's answer to the lament of the psalmist.

Sin breached the relationship between God and us. Consider how sin affects our personal relationships. A husband cheats on his wife. What could he possibly do to atone for the hurt he has caused her? I could never do such a thing to my wife. I would rather die than cause her that pain. But if I was that stupid, I think dying for her would suffice to erase the pain of my betrayal. This is what it means to atone. To atone is to offer a sacrifice of love sufficient or beyond to erase the pain and damage of the transgression.


When Jesus took on our humanity, He was able to do what we could never do. He loved God with the purest and perfect love even to the point of death. Simultaneously, through Jesus, God shows His perfect love for us. Essentially, the passion was God turning the other cheek to our transgression. This leaves us with a choice. Do we strike God's other cheek? Or, do we realize our evil and repent of it?

The Christian is the one who repents. The evil person is the one who does not repent but keeps striking. Since God cannot be hurt, the evil person's continuous hatred feeds on itself becoming a consuming and burning thing ending in Hell. Hell is the freedom to hate God forever. Heaven is the freedom to love God forever. This world is the fork in the road.

The acceptance of suffering in this life is how we show and demonstrate our love for God. It is our way to atone for our sins and to join our atonement with the cross of Christ. This is how our salvation is worked out. This is what the discipline of suffering is all about. This is why all saints have suffered. This is why martyrdom leads straight to Heaven since it is the supreme act of love for our Lord.


The discipline of suffering is to take all that we endure and offer it up as a sacrifice of love for the Lord. This is why we should not complain in our sufferings. It makes our offering imperfect. We may cry in anguish. We may collapse as Jesus did under the weight of His cross. But to complain is to mix our love with bitterness. How I struggle with this. I offer up everyday of my life to the Lord, but I have yet to offer up a single day without complaint. I have so far to go in learning to love God. I have yet to offer the unleavened bread of sacrifice because all I give is leavened with bitterness.

People think that to be a saint is to do something large like dying for the faith. But I tell you, if you can just endure a single day of your life without complaining or bitterness, you have done a mighty thing. I suspect that a day of martyrdom is easier to endure than a lifetime of the daily grind. As Flannery O'Connor put it, "She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick." What the daily grind lacks in intensity it makes up for in duration.

The discipline of suffering is to endure hardship without bitterness. If you can do this, you have made a large step towards becoming a saint. It is something I am still working on, but I complain a little less each day. I take to heart the words of St. Francis de Sales who wrote, "If we walk steadily and faithfully, God will lift us up to greater things." My desire is to get through a day of grind without complaining. May God help me.

3.22.2015

The New Evangelization


Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.
MATTHEW 24:11-13 NASB

When I converted to Catholicism, I heard a lot about the New Evangelization. I thought that the push of this effort was to reach people like me--a former Protestant and an atheist. It didn't take long for me to realize that I was mistaken. The New Evangelization was actually the "Re-evangelization" of cradle Catholics who had slipped away from the Church never to return. It isn't actually "evangelization" so much as re-catechizing fallen away Catholics. My personal opinion is that this is largely a waste of time.

The motive of the New Evangelization is sincere, but I think the effort should be directed towards people like me who never got the real Gospel the first time as opposed to hearing it from birth to age 18 numerous times through baptism, first communion, and confirmation. I think many in the Church think that they failed these fallen away Catholics, but I can tell you that they didn't. Most cradle Catholics I have encountered are little more than spoiled brats who lightly esteem the treasure they so easily attained. Snared by the temptations of the world, their love has grown cold, and they have fallen away. The Church did not fail them. Those people failed our Lord.

Some think that the reason these lapsed Catholics fall away is because of a lack of proper catechesis. Somehow, the Church failed to teach the faith. Yet, I went from zero knowledge of Catholicism to knowing more than most cradle Catholics in a short time. I did this by reading two main sources--The Catechism of the Catholic Church and Catholicism for Dummies. The CCC is a publication of the Church while the dummies book was an old copy I checked out from the library. My RCIA teachers were competent, and they were always there for me. The rest I gleaned from the ocean of resources available on the internet. I find it hard to believe that lifelong Catholics were deprived of these resources. If you don't know the truth, it behooves you to seek it. Once again, it is not the fault of the Church but of these lapsed Catholics who can't be bothered to learn their faith.


Another reason people cite for fallen away Catholics are the modernist bishops, priests, and religious sowing heresy in the Church. I find that many fallen away Catholics actually like the modernism, so this sort of thing did not drive them away. They want a church that is pro-choice and pro-gay marriage and pro-divorce. But whether modernist or traditionalist, the Church still holds no interest for them.

Another avenue of blame is with the parents. Somehow, the parents did not reinforce or live what the Church taught. But I already know of many faithful and devout Catholics with apostate children. These parents pray, but they shouldn't blame themselves. They did not fail as parents.

The real interest for these apostates isn't what the Church has but what the world offers. These former Catholics are worldly. This life is more important than the next life. If you talk with any of them, they will give you a nice story about disappointment in the Church and blah blah blah. This is where church leaders have gotten the idea that it is the Church's fault for this mass defection. But this amounts to so much excuse making and deflection. The reality is that the fallen away want to live immoral lives or sleep in each Sunday instead of attending Mass. The world offers the easier path even if it does end in eternal damnation.

I push a little deeper than most, and I find once the subterfuge is wiped away that atheism lies at the bottom of it all. As a former atheist, I can smell another atheist. If God is not real, going to Mass becomes a cultural rite instead of anything of real importance. It's like a secular Jew who lights the menorah around Hanukkah but loves a good lobster. For the fallen away Catholic, the religion is a mere tradition to be observed for nostalgia but ignored in practice.

The bottom line on these former Catholics is that they are the salt that lost its saltiness. That salt has become worthless, and it will be cast out. Jesus says so in Matthew 5:13,
You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.
How can it be made salty again? What can you do that hasn't already been done? What can you say that has not already been said? And what excuse can any of these fallen away Catholics give to our Lord on the Day of Judgment?

The best way to re-evangelize these apostates is to go and evangelize those who have never had the benefit of being taught the faith from the cradle. I am with those who believe the Catholic Church needs to get smaller before it can become vibrant again. This is what Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) said in 1969:
From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge—a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so will she lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, she will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision.
I agree with these words. They ring prophetic. I see parishes closing in dioceses like New York that are nothing more than graveyards for apostate Catholics. Meanwhile, they are building churches in South Carolina and Tennessee that have always been hostile to Catholicism. I have read enough of church history to know that the Catholic Church grows and thrives in adversity. The old Catholic enclaves have become comfortable and dangerous for the faithful. They have become partners with the world instead of antagonists. This is why their parishes that are centuries old are closing up shop.

I have dim hopes for the New Evangelization, but I have high hopes for the One True Faith. It will endure until the end as our Lord promised. I also know that the path to destruction is broad and most people go to Hell. The path to life is narrow and belongs to the few. I don't want anyone to go to Hell, but I also know that there is no one in Hell that didn't choose to be there. That choice is made in this life.

3.19.2015

The Financial Apocalypse


When He broke the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying, “Come” I looked, and behold, a black horse; and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard something like a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not damage the oil and the wine.”
REVELATION 6:6-7 NASB

This verse from Revelation is an interesting one because it talks about a phenomenon of our time--the inequality of wealth. A denarius was a day's wage, and a quart of wheat is a pittance for an entire day's worth of work. Meanwhile, the admonition to not harm the oil and the wine is the insult to the injury as working people slave to feed themselves while the rich enjoy a banquet of the finest things at their expense. This disparity can be seen in this chart:


The wealth of the richest won't actually fit on the chart. And this is just in the USA where even the poor are better off than over 90% of the rest of the world. Similar figures from around the world paint the same picture. A very few people are grossly rich while the rest are left to scramble for the crumbs. This tendency for wealth to collect in the hands of the few at the expense of the many is depicted accurately in economist Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century. This map also tells an interesting story:


Half of this nation's wealth is not concentrated in Silicon Valley or Texas but in the Northeast Corridor. And what is in this region of the two country? This would be government (DC) and finance (New York.) These are the two sectors of the economy that produce virtually nothing of value to the rest of the country. Through force and fraud, they loot this country. This is Chesterton's Hudge and Gudge in action. Granted, there are some other rich folks in the country, but I have a computer and a full tank of gas that they gave me in exchange for my dollars. The only thing the political and financial world has given me is a tax bill and a debased currency.

I don't know how much longer this madness can continue. Just yesterday, the Federal Reserve let Wall Street know that the party is still on as they sent no signal that they were inclined to raise interest rates. The stock market responded by surging upward. This party is being paid for by the theft of the rest of the country through the Federal Reserve printing press. We can only guess how much is sloshing around the derivatives market that dwarfs the stock market but is invisible to rest of the country.

There is a financial apocalypse coming. It will sweep the world. This towering edifice will collapse, and no one will be untouched when it falls. It has been built on usury and counterfeiting. And, if you are a poor working person, you should welcome this collapse. This collapse will be your liberation because the real economy is shackled by the make believe economy of these rats. These rats are the ones that have made a college degree a ticket to indentured servitude instead of the middle class. These rats are the ones who have made healthcare unaffordable. These rats are the ones who built all those empty houses. These rats are the ones who reduce people to working multiple part time jobs and collect from their sweat the interest on consumer loans and credit cards. These rats are the ones who have ballooned our national debt beyond any ability to even pay the interest. And when they get in trouble, they expect the working people to bail them out. Our gains belong to them. Their losses belong to us. This is injustice, and quoting Ayn Rand will not make it justice.

Justice will come when you see financial executives jumping from windows and overpaid government employees are put into the street to look for real jobs. I look forward to that day not because I want to see people suffer but because I want to see people stop suffering. Those who make a dishonest living should get what is coming to them. And those who make an honest living should at the very least be able to live. I pray for justice.

3.15.2015

The Hard Path


Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
ROBERT FROST

I think everyone has heard that Robert Frost poem about the road not taken. I have heard it quoted so much that it has become trite. It connotes being a maverick and an individualist and all that blather about doing it your way. But there is a reason that people don't take the road less traveled. This is because it is hard.

Make no mistake about it. The path is not difficult because few people take it. Granted, no one is going to support you on it, but there is not going to be a long line of haters along the way heaping scorn and derision on you. They are usually at the start of the hard path, but they fade out as you go along. This is because they will have to follow you to keep hating on you. Hate fades quickly and is replaced by apathy. No one cares that you have taken the hard path.

The hard path is lonely. If you are someone who is extroverted and needs people surrounding you, the hard path is not for you. This is where that individualist association with the hard path comes from. But this is imprecise. It is not individualism but introversion. You have to be someone who can keep company with just your thoughts and the presence of God. You need to have an interior life to take the hard path.

The hard path forces you to call upon those inner reserves. It demands commitment and fortitude. If you have these virtues, then the hard path is not so hard. You make a friend of pain. You become closer to God. Suffering is not what makes the hard path hard.

The hard path is hard because of temptation. I have learned that you can suffer and endure almost anything when you don't have any options. But when you can quit and take the easy path, it becomes very difficult to remain on that hard path. When the suffering is most intense and the way is hardest, the Devil whispers in your ear, "You chose this?" Every step along the hard path is a choice, and the choice to quit and take the easy way tempts you with each footstep.

It is easy to choose the hard path. It is easy to endure the initial persecution. It is easy being alone. But it is hard to continue when you know that you can quit. Why wait for relief at the end when you can find relief now? That is taking up the cross and bearing it. The suffering is in that constant choice to remain on that path.

As I write this, it is the halfway point of Lent. Lent is a time of mortification, repentance, and reflection. I remember when it was way harder to be Catholic, but it is easier now. What has made it easier is that my options have diminished. At the beginning, it is easier to exit, but I am far down the path now. The haters have faded, and I have learned to trod onward. I know that any other path leads to ruin, so I am not so tempted now. It gets easier as you go along. And you find you are not so alone after all. And I agree with Frost. This hard path has made all the difference.

3.12.2015

Wall Street Casino


I learned early that there is nothing new in Wall Street. There can’t be because speculation is as old as the hills. Whatever happens in the stock market today has happened before and will happen again. I’ve never forgotten that.
JESSE LIVERMORE

The story of Jesse Lauriston Livermore is a strange one. He is considered by many to be the greatest trader in Wall Street history and his maxims guide many traders today. Livermore was born the son of a farmer in 1877, and he was looking at the fate of making an honest living like his dad when he ran away from home at age 14 for the easy money of the stock market. Livermore would start off at the bottom of the Wall Street world and speculate his way to massive riches. He made and lost and remade his fortune again and again. But by 1940, Livermore would commit suicide at the age of 63. Here is his suicide note to his wife:
My dear Nina: Can’t help it. Things have been bad with me. I am tired of fighting. Can’t carry on any longer. This is the only way out. I am unworthy of your love. I am a failure. I am truly sorry, but this is the only way out for me. Love Laurie
At the time of his death, Livermore was worth a paltry $5 million. That's not bad for a failure even in today's dollars. The reason for Livermore's suicide is his obvious depression but also the fact that the fun times of being a stock market operator had been decimated by the regulations that came after the Crash of 1929. Essentially, Livermore was a high stakes gambler confined to small stakes at the bingo parlor. You can learn many things from Livermore, but I think the most important thing to learn from the man is the essential truth about the stock market. It is nothing more than a casino.



People already know this truth. 1929 left an indelible mark on the American psyche. Even the traders on Wall Street know it can go bust at any moment. But that doesn't keep them from timing their exit before the music stops. Speculation is gambling. Everyone knows it including the speculators. The problem comes when we consider that other term known as "investor."

The popular notion of the investor is different from that of the speculator. The investor does due diligence and invests in stocks in good companies and holds for the long term. The investor is not swayed by the ups and downs of the market. But as our efficient market theorists have pointed out to us, these shrewd investors do no better than someone holding a basket of the broad market in index funds. The best investing is the dumb investing of just buying a low cost index fund and sitting on it for the long term. The problem with this buy and hold strategy is that it is like trying to keep your drink in the glass while riding a roller coaster. You pray something is still in there when the ride stops.

The proposed solution to this roller coaster of investing was a sophisticated strategy of a diversified portfolio or a "slice and dice" approach to investing. Basically, you divide the market into various asset classes and try to "balance" your portfolio to reduce the risk exposure. This is supposed to end the wild gyrations and stomach churning that comes with each boom and bust of the stock market. The problem comes with fees and taxes as you rebalance each year. This can be mitigated in a tax deferred account. Plus, my own look over the charts show that this portfolio strategy does little to reduce the risk as all asset classes move virtually in unison. It's like telling someone that they would be safer in the bathroom than the living room when the tornado hits.

The casino is not confined to the stock market as speculation exists in commodities, real estate, derivatives, and the like. Even investing in individual companies and ignoring the stock market makes no sense because the management of the company do not ignore the market but will make foolish decisions and even lie to keep that stock price going. Pursuing the hard nose security analysis of the legendary Benjamin Graham will do you no good if management lies in the bookkeeping.

In the 1990's, I became interested in stock market investing. It was a boom time, so I had the same interest as everyone else which was how to achieve wealth without work. Fortunately for me, my interest in stocks became more academic than actual as I never had a sizable stake or the stomach to really gamble. After all these years, I have reached one firm conclusion. It was the conclusion my grandparents reached in 1929. It is a casino. You can make a lot of money in the markets, but you can also lose a lot of money in the markets. That kind of wealth comes with immense risk.

The appeal of the markets for the players is not so much the money as the risk. Gambling is an addiction. Gamblers are no different than people who use drugs. This is because taking risks produces adrenaline, and people who play the market are adrenaline junkies like big wave riders and BASE jumpers. Most people work boring jobs doing the same monotonous tasks day after day and week after week. These speculators cannot handle this sort of routine. I suspect that this thought went through Livermore's brain right before the bullet went through his head. Life was not depressing but boring.



The sick thing about this casino is that it has been sold on the American public as a good way to preserve and grow wealth for the future. Mom and pop accept that they have to work for a living, but they anticipate a time when they will not be able to do this anymore as their bodies give out. So, they look to Social Security, pensions, and tax deferred retirement accounts to cushion them in their golden years. Naturally, Wall Street salivates over this pile of cash, and they have strived mightily to get their hands on it. Excepting Social Security, they have succeeded in this endeavor, and they may succeed with Social Security when it is all done. The result is nothing less than a Ponzi scheme for at least the last thirty years as all this retirement money has come into the market. 1982 was a golden year as it marked the beginning of a long bull run when stocks could go nowhere but up. 2007 was the wake up call. Now, even Boomers have joined their parents and millennials in the belief that Wall Street is a casino.

The Federal Reserve also bears blame in this matter as they pump out those inflated dollars providing the credit for the credit bubbles. If stocks are gambling, sitting on cash leaves you with the slow decay of monetary inflation. The financial system as a whole is a gigantic wealth destruction machine. Then, there is Uncle Sam with his taxes, his deficits, and his national debt that will never be repaid. The prophets of the financial apocalypse are many, yet you feel helpless as you watch it all head to impending doom. What can you do?

I believe that all of this madness has one main source, and this source is paper money. People are always looking for money for nothing. But when your money comes from nothing, the error is compounded exponentially. The reality is that paper is not money. It can never be money. Granted, we expend great effort to acquire those pieces of paper, but they come out of thin air. Somewhere, someone has to get stuck with the nothing.

The only thing that is money is gold. Gold has always been money. You can trade and barter other things including pieces of paper, but gold is the only true store of wealth. This is because gold is finite, divisible, indestructible, and requires great effort to mine out of the earth. People will argue that gold is useless. You can't eat it. You can't do anything with it except maybe make jewelry out of it. These are valid points. But if gold is so useless, what does that make of paper? Am I supposed to put more faith in paper because I could use it as toilet paper in a pinch?



I am a gold bug. I know this puts me in the camp with the crazy people that wear tinfoil hats. But what else is there? You can gamble on stocks, or you can watch your cash, bonds, and savings disintegrate from inflation and taxation. My suggestion for people wanting to save is to buy gold from a reputable source in its physical form and put it someplace safe and secret.

The reason so many people hate gold is obvious. The first is that an ounce of gold buried in a vault will be exactly that in thirty years' time--an ounce of gold. Gold does not increase in value. But the converse is also true. It does not decrease in value either. The second reason is that gold takes your wealth out of the economy. This means that it can't be taxed, lent out to others, or bled for fees. This is why FDR confiscated the gold back in the day and a good reason to take physical possession of your yellow metal. As they say, if you can't touch it, you don't own it. The last reason these people hate gold is because it frees you from the Fed's control of you. The Fed has vast influence over the economic decisions of millions of people because we insist on holding and exchanging their green pieces of paper. With a single word, Janet Yellen could set off a run on banks and the stock market.

When it comes to creating your own economy, gold is a large part of the program. As James Grant put it, "Gold is the store of one's work." And that is ultimately what the controversy comes down to. There are essentially two mindsets at work in the world. There are those who work for what they get while there are others who scheme for what they get. The schemers can only acquire wealth second hand from those who actually work. The workers are hapless fools who dutifully turn over their wealth to be looted by these schemers. If you confront these schemers, they will be at pains to defend themselves as being workers, too. They will claim lineage to some father or grandfather with rough and dirty hands from working in the coal mine or the factory. They will even defend their scheming as benefitting the larger economy. But when you press them further, they will calmly and sociopathically confess to their real worldview which is Darwinian to the extreme. They are the strong, and they are entitled to their exploitation of the weak. Honest working folk are the weak, and they deserve to be devoured.

People who work hard want to save, but saving is foolish in today's low interest/high inflation environment. Consequently, you can either spend it, or you can dump it in the casino. The spenders seem foolish, but they are actually doing the most logical thing. They are converting their cash into commodities which are safer havens than anything offered by a bank or a stockbroker. The only foolish part is that they consume these commodities rapidly, or they sign up for the usury trick of credit cards and consumer loans from the local finance company or rent-to-own store. Yet, the smartest thing these fools could do would be to buy gold and diamond encrusted grillz for their teeth. This is because you can sell that gold when your fortunes go south.


These are strange times we are living as every financial mind that I respect admits candidly that they have never seen anything like the environment we see today. There is no historical parallel to this madness where bubbles are everywhere and everyone anticipates a massive crash. Interest rates have been at zero for six years. The market is at an all time high while the economy is tanking. This is the economy one would find on the home world of Bizarro Superman. The culprit is all that paper money. It represents a vast store of financial black powder waiting for a single spark to send it into the most massive economic explosion the world has yet seen. The effects will be worldwide and devastating. No one will be untouched. Someone has to get stuck with the nothing, and that someone is us.

My prescription for survival of this calamity looks much the same as those paranoid preppers with their bomb shelters in the woods. But that sort of stuff is extreme. My advice is to become more self-reliant in your lifestyle and less reliant on the larger economy. Work hard, live simply, and put your savings in gold. I might be wrong, and we have nothing to worry about. But history tells me to worry. For good or bad, I think my advice will serve you well either way. The only thing you will miss is the excitement of the casino.

JESSE LIVERMORE, RIP

3.05.2015

The Discipline of Patience


The man who knows how to be strong will not be in a hurry to receive the reward of his virtue. He is patient. Indeed it is fortitude that teaches us to appreciate the human and divine virtue of patience. '“By your patience you will gain possession of your souls." (Luke 21:19) The possession of the soul is attributed to patience, which in effect is the root and guardian of all the virtues. We secure possession of our souls through patience, for, by learning to have dominion over ourselves, we begin to possess that which we are.' And it is this very patience that moves us to be understanding with others, for we are convinced that souls, like good wine, improve with time.

We have to be strong and patient and, therefore, calm and composed, but not with the composure of the man who buys his own tranquility at the expense of ignoring his brothers or neglecting the great task (which falls to us all) of tirelessly spreading good throughout the world. We can keep calm because there is always forgiveness and because there is a solution for everything, except death; and for the children of God, death is life. We must try to keep our peace, even if only so as to act intelligently, since the man who remains calm is able to think, to study the pros and cons, to examine judiciously the outcome of the actions he is about to undertake. He then plays his part calmly and decisively.
ST. JOSEMARIA ESCRIVA

The dictionary defines patience as "the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset." For most people, patience is the ability to wait for something, but this is imprecise. Patience is the ability to wait or strive for something without losing your cool. Everyone waits. Waiting is a part of life that no one can escape. Patience has to do with our attitude during those periods of waiting. Very many may do the former, but they fail miserably on the latter. I know because I am one of those failures.

When things don't go our way, the first impulse is anger followed by the second impulse which is vengeance. Anger can go down two paths. It can be constructive, or it can be destructive. Constructive anger is righteous anger while destructive anger is sinful anger. Anger is a logical and rational reaction to injustice. Anger becomes irrational when it seeks revenge. The Lord has said that vengeance belongs to Him, and we should not take that role upon ourselves. I have to remind myself of this every time I want to punch someone in the face repeatedly. Patience is tied completely to this expectation that God will punish wrongdoers in His time. Hell exists, and it should make us stop and reflect on the fate of evildoers. The worst we could ever do to someone is insignificant in comparison to Hell. When I think of Hell, I actually start to feel sorry for the people that wrong me. I also tremble as I consider all the wrong I have done in my life. May God have mercy on me.

I want to be patient in my life. I want to stop having my fits of rage. So many times, I become as bad or worse than those who wrong me. I must remember the example of St. Francis de Sales who struggled mightily to overcome his temper such that he became famous for his patience. De Sales wrote, "Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections, but instantly set about remedying them - every day begin the task anew." This saint was admirable in so many ways, and his words on anger and patience are a salve to an embittered soul.

My life is full of people who try my patience, but I have to see them as people who train my soul. As St. Josemaria Escriva wrote, "Don't say: 'That person gets on my nerves.' Think: 'That person sanctifies me.'" There are many who sanctify me. I have gotten better at the outward display of anger, but I have yet to get to the root of the rage in my heart. I want to be patient. I want to love patience instead of revenge. Patience is gold. Revenge is garbage. My heart is more garbage than gold.

I want to be calm and gentle like St. Francis de Sales. I want to not let things ruffle me or filch my tranquility. I want to endure my daily grind and the regular offenses without grinding my teeth or complaining. I need God's grace on this because I can't ever get there on my own. Patience begins with being patient with yourself.

People either repent, and we forgive them. Or, they do not repent and suffer the loss of their souls for eternity. Either way, it all comes to God's good end. God knows His business, and patience is letting God tend to His business. Our business is to be tending to our souls and doing penance. May God's kingdom come and may His will be done. AMEN.

Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset.
ST. FRANCIS DE SALES