Author: Jeff Hicks

Meet the New Boss; NOT Same as the Old Boss!

Naftali Bennett (LA Times)

A day after they gained the confidence of the Knesset and were sworn into office, Monday saw the ministers of the newly confirmed government take up their roles at various ministries, where some were treated to handover ceremonies by their predecessors and others were not.

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who the night before was ousted from power after 12 years in office by the incoming coalition, gave his replacement, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, less than an hour — according to some reports, just half an hour — for their handover, before publicly declaring that he would swiftly bring down the new government.

The formal transfer of power ended without the traditional ceremony and public good wishes, without a handshake and with no photo-op, an indication of the animus Netanyahu harbors toward Bennett, his own one-time chief of staff. Addressing the heads of the parties, Netanyahu demanded discipline and cohesion in order to make life harder on the coalition and “rescue the people and State of Israel.” The Times of Israel

Analysis: One of the indicators of a leader’s character is the way he/she bows out when defeated. For twelve years, I’ve admired Benjamin Netanyahu for his ‘stand-up’ leadership style. He’s ran a good race; perhaps it’s time for him to move on. Unfortunately, now that he is out of office, he may be facing a trial for corruption soon. Maybe that’s one reason he seems adamant in clinging to power.

The incoming coalition will have its hands full and will need to hit the road running. With the Syrian war a continual problem next door, in addition to the problems in Gaza with Hamas and the continual situation up north dealing with Iranian-supported Hezbollah, astute leadership will be needed.

There will be compromise on some level coming in the Middle East. Iran wants and expects U.S. sanctions loosened in exchange for transparency on its nuclear programs. The resultant agreements through the Abraham Accords will be continuing. Like I’ve maintained, a major portion of that agreement turned out to be nothing more than an ‘arms-for-peace’ deal, with the F-35s thrown in to sweeten the pot. If anyone suggests there will suddenly be peace in the region because of the accords, they have more hope in the system than I do.

The age-old, two-state solution debate between Israel and the Palestinians will continue. The Palestinians will likely never agree to what’s offered by Israel; there are too many deep-rooted differences regarding Jerusalem and the West Bank. And with Bennett in control, I doubt any compromises will take place any time soon.

Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeneh said Sunday [Associated Press] that the Palestinian position remains “adherence to international legitimacy and the two-state solution by establishing an independent Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital.” According to the coalition, discussions regarding this issue will be tabled for the time being.      

Thank the Lord for the Press!

(Journalism)

As the Justice Department investigated who was behind leaks of classified information early in the Trump administration, it took a highly unusual step: Prosecutors subpoenaed Apple for data from the accounts of at least two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, aides, and family members. One was a minor.

All told, the records of at least a dozen people tied to the committee were seized in 2017 and early 2018, including those of Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, then the panel’s top Democrat and now its chairman, according to committee officials and two other people briefed on the inquiry. Representative Eric Swalwell of California said in an interview Thursday night that he had also been notified that his data had been subpoenaed.

Prosecutors, under the beleaguered attorney general, Jeff Sessions, were hunting for the sources behind news media reports about contacts between Trump associates and Russia. Ultimately, the data and other evidence did not tie the committee to the leaks, and investigators debated whether they had hit a dead end and some even discussed closing the inquiry.

But William P. Barr revived languishing leak investigations after he became attorney general a year later. He moved a trusted prosecutor from New Jersey with little relevant experience to the main Justice Department to work on the Schiff-related case and about a half-dozen others, according to three people with knowledge of his work who did not want to be identified discussing federal investigations. The New York Times (By Katie Benner, Nicholas Fandos, Michael S. Schmidt, and Adam Goldman)

Analysis: Government leaks are as common as snow melting in springtime. Information is power. And some things just need to see the light of day. Remember “Deep Throat?” Remember Watergate?

News papers in general and journalists specifically have a duty to sniff out a story and make sure truth gets published. The news keeps government honest, and to the point, it keeps politicians beholden to their oath to protect and defend the Constitution and represent their constituencies honorably.

Historically, authoritarians hate the press, especially a press protected by a Bill of Rights. Rights of the masses invariably hinder in one way or another an authoritarian’s hunger for more power. Every time I hear a hard-nosed journalist asking tough questions, especially to a politician, I thank the lord I live in a land that constitutionally values and protects the free press and all the privileges associated with it. On the flip side, I shudder when I hear politicians, especially the president of the United States, excoriate the press.

But things get dicey when investigations get underway. The Department of Justice has an obligation to investigate unlawful acts. Leaking classified information could compromise national security, and under the Espionage Act, if found guilty, a person who is found in violation can be sent to prison where they belong.

But what about a citizen’s rights to privacy? At what point do government investigators, given carte blanche authority to subpoena and view private records, overstep their lawful bounds? It’s a fair question to ask, “At what point do the investigators of lawbreaking actually become lawbreakers themselves?”   

And back to the issue of Watergate, where would we be if FBI Associate Director Mark Felt, (Deep Throat) would’ve held back on disclosing information to journalist Bob Woodward?

The constant engagement of citizens living in a free land to hold their government representatives accountable is absolutely necessary as a means to protect against tyranny. Leaking information related to malfeasance is a necessary part of the process in some cases. Otherwise, government officials would only declare their unlawful actions as “top secret” to cover their tracks and bury their misdeeds. The U.S. Federal government and its workers will always be beholden to the people. It’s critical to the continued existence and freedoms of the United States of America that it remains so.    

Who Wants to Be a Billionaire?

ProPublica

ProPublica has obtained a vast trove of Internal Revenue Service data on the tax returns of thousands of the nation’s wealthiest people, covering more than 15 years. The data provides an unprecedented look inside the financial lives of America’s titans, including Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, and Mark Zuckerberg. It shows not just their income and taxes, but also their investments, stock trades, gambling winnings, and even the results of audits.

Taken together, it demolishes the cornerstone myth of the American tax system: that everyone pays their fair share and the richest Americans pay the most. The IRS records show that the wealthiest can — perfectly legally — pay income taxes that are only a tiny fraction of the hundreds of millions, if not billions, their fortunes grow each year. ProPublica (Jesse Eisinger, Jeff Ernsthausen and Paul Kiel)

Analysis: ProPublica’s revelation report cast more clouds over some of the U.S. wealthy. We are all used to the financial class (caste) system – the haves and the have-nots. I suppose we should include another level in that stratum and call it the ‘in-betweeners.’ That’s the middle class. I’m middle class; I have just enough to keep me going from paycheck to paycheck, a vacation once in a while, a couple cars, and a house in a decent part of town. And I pay over 35 percent of my income to taxes of one kind or another.    

In the above quote from the ProPublica article, the emphasis should be put on “the wealthiest can – perfectly legally – pay income taxes that are only a tiny fraction…” It appears the system is tilted in favor of the rich. There should be no gasps of surprise there. The system has always been tilted in favor of the rich. Perhaps you’ve heard this variation of the ‘Golden Rule, “He who has the most gold makes the rules.”

Many middle- and working-class Americans have suspicioned for years that they pay more in income taxes than many of the extremely wealthy in the country. That was confirmed when it was revealed just how much Donald Trump, the self-proclaimed billionaire, paid in Federal income taxes compared to those workers.

The point always comes down to fairness and the equity associated with everyone paying their share for the benefits received through taxation. Frankly, I get tired of being nickel and dimed to death on taxes, from income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, and all the usage fees and dues, which are actually taxes. So, if I had the opportunity to take advantage of the tax-avoidance schemes (legal) that the rich use, I would likely do it without hesitation.

What I am in favor of is a tax system that does not benefit or favor any one class. How about a flat tax system? If you make this much money, you send the U.S. Government 5 percent – no loopholes, tricks, or surprises. That goes for all individuals and incorporeal entities.   

Said-It News: Bitcoin Becomes Legal Tender

(Medium)

El Salvador makes bitcoin legal tender

El Salvador has become the first country in the world to adopt bitcoin as legal tender after Congress approved President Nayib Bukele’s proposal to embrace the cryptocurrency.

Bukele has touted the use of bitcoin for its potential to help Salvadorans living abroad to send remittances back home, while saying the U.S. dollar will also continue as legal tender.

The use of bitcoin will be optional for individuals and would not bring risks to users, Bukele said. The government will guarantee convertibility to dollars at the time of transaction through a trust created at the country’s development bank BANDESAL. Reuters (Tom Wilson)

Analysis: Bitcoin seems to be the wave of the economic future. The move will provide secure ‘buy and sell’ transactions for El Salvadorans who choose to participate. This will also be a boon to El Salvadorans who work abroad and send their wages home in the form of remittances. The issue could prove to be problematic, however, as bitcoin is more prone to market and other economic fluctuations. Look to other countries to jump on this alternative currency bandwagon.

Africa desperately short of COVID vaccine

In the global race to vaccinate people against COVID-19, Africa is tragically at the back of the pack. In fact, it has barely gotten out of the starting blocks.

The World Health Organization says the continent of 1.3 billion people is facing a severe shortage of vaccine at the same time a new wave of infections is rising across Africa. Vaccine shipments into Africa have ground to a “near halt,” WHO said last week.

“It is extremely concerning and at times frustrating,” said Africa CDC Director Dr. John Nkengasong, a Cameroonian virologist who is trying to ensure some of the world’s poorest nations get a fair share of vaccines in a marketplace where they can’t possibly compete. AP News (Gerald Imray)

Analysis: Vaccines are like most other commodities on the open market; unfortunately, many nations with small economies cannot compete and secure vaccines for their populations. Despite the efforts of rich countries to offer vaccines to poorer nations, the numbers are dismal. African nations face the same fate as India, where COVID spiked resulting in a total of nearly 600,000 deaths, unless a vaccine program is administered quickly.

Nicaraguan government launches mass arrests

President Daniel Ortega’s government has carried out sweeping arrests of his top challengers in the November elections, in a sharp escalation of political repression in Nicaragua.

Two of the presidential hopefuls were arrested on Tuesday — Félix Maradiaga, an academic and political activist, and Juan Sebastián Chamorro, an economist. During the past week, two others, Arturo Cruz and Cristiana Chamorro, were also detained. The Washington Post (Ismael López Ocampo and Mary Beth Sheridan)

Analysis: Daniel Ortega will do what it takes to stay in power. One of the oldest political strategies in the book to maintain power in a democratic government is to remove all competition at the polls. Arresting the opposition is one way to do so. This action is a challenge to the U.S. Biden administration, as Vice President Harris is in the region promoting good governance. Ortega is seeking a fourth consecutive term in November; polls show his popularity has dropped to its lowest point ever.

One Day, God Rode the Brooklyn Subway

(Sunnyside Post)

Some stories need no introduction. But if there was one, I would say this particular tale restored my faith in humanity.

Marcel Sternberger was a methodical man of nearly 50, with bushy white hair, guileless brown eyes, and the bouncing enthusiasm of a czardas dancer of his native Hungary. He always took the 9:09 Long Island Railroad train from his suburban home to Woodside, N.Y.., where he caught a subway into the city.

On the morning of January 10, 1948, Sternberger boarded the 9:09 as usual. En route, he suddenly decided to visit Laszlo Victor, a Hungarian friend who lived in Brooklyn and was ill.

Accordingly, at Ozone Park, Sternberger changed to the subway for Brooklyn, went to his friend’s house, and stayed until midafternoon. He then boarded a Manhattan-bound subway for his Fifth Avenue office. Here is Marcel’s incredible story:

The car was crowded, and there seemed to be no chance of a seat. But just as I entered, a man sitting by the door suddenly jumped up to leave, and I slipped into the empty place. I’ve been living in New York long enough not to start conversations with strangers. But being a photographer, I have the peculiar habit of analyzing people’s faces, and I was struck by the features of the passenger on my left. He was probably in his late 30s, and when he glanced up, his eyes seemed to have a hurt expression in them. He was reading a Hungarian-language newspaper, and something prompted me to say in Hungarian, “I hope you don’t mind if I glance at your paper.”

The man seemed surprised to be addressed in his native language. But he answered politely, “You may read it now. I’ll have time later on.”

During the half-hour ride to town, we had quite a conversation. He said his name was Bela Paskin. A law student when World War II started, he had been put into a German labor battalion and sent to the Ukraine. Later he was captured by the Russians and put to work burying the German dead. After the war, he covered hundreds of miles on foot until he reached his home in Debrecen, a large city in eastern Hungary.

I myself knew Debrecen quite well, and we talked about it for a while. Then he told me the rest of his story. When he went to the apartment once occupied by his father, mother, brothers and sisters, he found strangers living there. Then he went upstairs to the apartment that he and his wife once had. It also was occupied by strangers. None of them had ever heard of his family.

As he was leaving, full of sadness, a boy ran after him, calling “Paskin bacsi! Paskin bacsi!” That means “Uncle Paskin.” The child was the son of some old neighbors of his. He went to the boy’s home and talked to his parents. “Your whole family is dead,” they told him. “The Nazis took them and your wife to Auschwitz.”

Auschwitz was one of the worst Nazi concentration camps. Paskin gave up all hope. A few days later, too heartsick to remain any longer in Hungary, he set out again on foot, stealing across border after border until he reached Paris. He managed to immigrate to the United States in October 1947, just three months before I met him.

All the time he had been talking, I kept thinking that somehow his story seemed familiar. A young woman whom I had met recently at the home of friends had also been from Debrecen; she had been sent to Auschwitz; from there she had been transferred to work in a German munitions factory. Her relatives had been killed in the gas chambers. Later she was liberated by the Americans and was brought here in the first boatload of displaced persons in 1946.

Her story had moved me so much that I had written down her address and phone number, intending to invite her to meet my family and thus help relieve the terrible emptiness in her life.

It seemed impossible that there could be any connection between these two people, but as I neared my station, I fumbled anxiously in my address book. I asked in what I hoped was a casual voice, “Was your wife’s name Marya?”

He turned pale. “Yes!” he answered. “How did you know?”

He looked as if he were about to faint.

I said, “Let’s get off the train.” I took him by the arm at the next station and led him to a phone booth. He stood there like a man in a trance while I dialed her phone number.

It seemed hours before Marya Paskin answered. (Later I learned her room was alongside the telephone, but she was in the habit of never answering it because she had so few friends and the calls were always for someone else. This time, however, there was no one else at home and, after letting it ring for a while, she responded.)

When I heard her voice at last, I told her who I was and asked her to describe her husband. She seemed surprised at the question, but gave me a description. Then I asked her where she had lived in Debrecen, and she told me the address.

Asking her to hold the line, I turned to Paskin and said, “Did you and your wife live on such-and-such a street?”

“Yes!” Bela exclaimed. He was white as a sheet and trembling.

“Try to be calm,” I urged him. “Something miraculous is about to happen to you. Here, take this telephone and talk to your wife!”

He nodded his head in mute bewilderment, his eyes bright with tears. He took the receiver, listened a moment to his wife’s voice, then suddenly cried, “This is Bela! This is Bela!” and he began to mumble hysterically. Seeing that the poor fellow was so excited he couldn’t talk coherently, I took the receiver from his shaking hands.

“Stay where you are,” I told Marya, who also sounded hysterical. “I am sending your husband to you. We will be there in a few minutes.”

Bela was crying like a baby and saying over and over again. “It is my wife. I go to my wife!”

At first I thought I had better accompany Paskin, lest the man should faint from excitement, but I decided that this was a moment in which no strangers should intrude. Putting Paskin into a taxicab, I directed the driver to take him to Marya’s address, paid the fare, and said goodbye.

Bela Paskin’s reunion with his wife was a moment so poignant, so electric with suddenly released emotion, that afterward neither he nor Marya could recall much about it.

“I remember only that when I left the phone, I walked to the mirror like in a dream to see if maybe my hair had turned gray,” she said later. “The next thing I know, a taxi stops in front of the house, and it is my husband who comes toward me. Details I cannot remember; only this I know—that I was happy for the first time in many years.”

“Even now it is difficult to believe that it happened. We have both suffered so much; I have almost lost the capability to not be afraid. Each time my husband goes from the house, I say to myself, Will anything happen to take him from me again?”

Her husband is confident that no horrible misfortune will ever again befall the two of them. “Providence has brought us together,” he says simply. “It was meant to be.”

Skeptical persons will no doubt attribute the events of that memorable afternoon to mere chance. But was it chance that made Marcel Sternberger suddenly decide to visit his sick friend and hence take a subway line that he had never ridden before? Was it chance that caused the man sitting by the door of the car to rush out just as Sternberger came in? Was it chance that caused Bela Paskin to be sitting beside Sternberger, reading a Hungarian newspaper?

Was it chance—or did God ride the Brooklyn subway that afternoon?

Paul Deutschman, Great Stories Remembered, edited and compiled by Joe L. Wheeler

Think Like a Dog; Reach Self-Actualization!

Maslow

I have always argued that more people should journal; language expressed in writ keeps civilization grounded. You want to know what was going on 200 years ago? Yeah, you could dig out an old newspaper clipping and see what it had to say. You’d likely learn of killings and robberies that happened a couple centuries ago the same as now – same stories, different time. No, speaking of ‘journaling,’ I’m not talking about more people working for the local newspaper, although it would be interesting seeing that many people hungry for a story. I’m talking about more people sitting down at the table before bed and penning out their thoughts and activities for that day. What made them happy; what challenges did they meet; who did they visit; what did they read; what did they think about the day’s current events? Pick up GGG grandpa’s journal from 200 years ago and read what he had to say about those things and you get true, intriguing history. You find out about grandpa, but you also get a taste of the cultural underpinnings of his day.

Check back often to this site and read first-hand my own journalings – the window on my existence. As the big papers proclaim, “You read it here, first!” Everyone wants to be first and best and most profound. I am a professional writer; at work they call me the ‘managing editor.’ I spent just over two years earning a master’s degree in International Relations so I could help produce an eight- to ten-page analysis of global issues that may affect the corporation where I work and its workers throughout the world. Don’t look for the publication in print; it’s proprietary. The only reason I bring it up is to add credibility to my journaling. I see a lot; I know a lot; I read a lot; I write a lot. And most of all, I’m a student of the business. That means I keep my mind sharp by always learning, always seeking to know, always searching for understanding, and then I write that shiz down! Perhaps we can mutually benefit one another in our quest for truth and enlightenment by comparing notes.

Last night, I laid awake longer than usual. Typically, I’m out like a light. Not last night. I stared into the black abyss and wondered how long the world community could keep up with its current pace of self-destruction. Look at the number of conflicts. Division is the order of the day; hating your neighbor seems to have become a social norm. You go next door to borrow a cup of sugar, you might not come back alive!

I got up this morning and showered in the hottest water I could stand. You want to forget about your worries? Take a steaming hot shower, or even better, soak your whole body in hot water. You’ll walk out a new person; your problems literally melted and washed down the drain. Next, I walked the dog. That put the final touches on forgetting my global concerns. Take note what a dog’s concerns are and follow suit! My Golden-Doodle, as she’s called, has three primary worries – sleeping, eating, and walking the neighborhood. That’s her life. Doing all three in the same day catapults her to the highest level on Maslow’s hierarchy. Self-actualization for a dog is a straight line from bed to her morning walk. I should, perhaps, take a page from my dog and view life through her lens of understanding.        

Dilbert Comics Reflect Reality at the Office

The main reason I love Dilbert comics is they reflect reality, and reality is often hilarious, especially in retrospect. The “Dilbert reality” of which I speak is played over and over again in offices and workplaces all across the world. Three characters in the Dilbert comics stand out to me: the main character, Dilbert, the pointy-haired boss, and Wally. All three of those imaginary folks represent some of the people I’ve worked with over the years – and even myself in some cases. In case you are not familiar with him, Dilbert is a ‘loner’ computer engineer who tries to make sense of his work environment but can never quite do so. The pointy-haired boss is a clueless, pencil-pusher, and Wally is a lazy, coffee drinking, gold-bricker.

My mind is often drawn back to the 1980s as I read my latest Dilbert cartoon each day. That’s the decade when I worked for an aero-tech, small military contractor. Every day for the five years I worked for that company, something happened that could’ve been used in a Dilbert episode. Nearly forty years have passed since I walked out of that place for the last time, but I remember the moments – the experiences that taught me ‘what not to do’ as a leader or worker-bee. And yes, I adopted the phrase, worker bee, from my experiences there. I was in middle management; the boss saw me as one of his ‘worker bees. I’d like to reminisce about that place in today’s blog for the cringe factor and for the laughs.

The boss and owner of the company was a short, fat man with red hair. He strutted around the plant like you might envision a king surveying his domain. The Boss never let an opportunity pass to say something condescending to one of his worker bees. To get a vision of his leadership style, you would only need to step into his office. His desk sat on a pedestal, raised approximately eight inches off the main floor. It was a cherry wood desk that glistened as the sun shone through the curtained windows. Behind the desk was a high-back leather reclining office chair with wheels. The rest of the chairs in the office had the legs shortened. The boss was physically and psychologically at an elevated advantage over all others who dared enter his domain.

Speaking of domains, just next door to the boss was the office of the Operations Manager – an ex-full bird colonel from the U.S. Air Force. According to company skuttle-butt, this guy’s last military assignment was a desk job in the Pentagon doing who-knows-what. My belief is, this OM empowered the boss to be the Boss. Together, they were like Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.

At this point, you might be asking, “What is this blogger writing about something that happened at work nearly 40 years ago?” The answer is, because there are some elements of humor wrapped-up in the details. And if you don’t smile, well then, details might give you something new to ponder on. Sometimes, descriptions and examples of what others do leave a profound impression – perhaps that indelible mind imprint could work into a realization of things to avoid or simply not do.

One day, I walked into the board room for a staff meeting. There were no chairs. “Where are the chairs?” a couple of my associates wondered out loud. A few ladies in the group who were pregnant had deep-furrowed brows showing their concern. Suddenly, the operations manager walked up. It was his meeting, and he had ordered all the chairs be removed. “This is a stand-up meeting,” he declared. “I don’t want people relaxing and yacking and causing this meeting to go overtime.”

All this operations manager’s meetings had a ‘max’ time length. Each subheading on his meeting agenda contained a time limit. Numerous instances, I witnessed him stopping people in mid-sentence and declaring we were all moving on without further discussion. Nothing was ever tabled or put out for small-group discussion. It was just ended – no further discussion. Most of his meetings ended abruptly at the exact time he had established from the start.

As far as time management goes, I learned a thing or two from ‘the colonel’ on meeting agendas. I still refuse to lead a meeting without an agenda containing at least some time constraints. I hate having my time wasted in meetings where productive discussion has ended and prattle has taken over! On the flipside, we should not forget that we are PEOPLE, and people are social creatures. A bit of social discussion about things other than work stuff is healthy.

Because the company was a small, government contractor, a buyer from the U.S. government would show up each week to buy-off that week’s production. The company created a workspace and provided a desk for the buyer; he was offered a smallish desk located in a dark corner of the production floor. He was given a broken, green vinyl office chair that tilted sideways. The set-up was explained to me this way by my manager “We don’t want the buyer getting comfortable and staying long. He needs to get his stuff done and get out of here!”

Producing products to fill U.S. government contracts was an engaging job. As a middle manager in the organization, I had to learn and understand the thousands of government military standards for production and shipping. Each contract had an AQL, or acceptable quality limit, associated with the production output. In layman’s terms, the AQL was the number, usually represented in percentages, of produced items that could be rejected before the entire contract was rejected. For example, if the contract called for 1000 units and the AQL was six percent, then during inspection, up to 60 items could be rejected and the contract still bought-off by the government. Go over 60, and the contract would be rejected.

I always viewed the AQL as ridiculous, even though I fully understood the reasoning behind it, especially during production of a long contract involving thousands of individual items. Human error is always a thing. But as a manager who worked under the “zero defects” principle, I found the AQL to be a distraction.

One time I heard about an Asian company that subcontracted to produce some items. They asked about the AQL and were told what it meant. This was a company that took their zero-defects production ideals seriously. When the items were received back in shipping, the top box contained an exact percentage of items that had been hammered, smashed, and broken. There was a note included with the defective parts, “Not sure why you wanted three percent of the contracted parts to be defective, but here they are. The rest have been produced according to contractual requirements.” That’s how I felt about AQLs, too. I guess it convolutes the phrase, “Made in America” into something completely unacceptable. But contracts need leeway, right?

The unusual and outlandish things we see and experience in the workplace adds to our ‘gee whiz’ files. Most of these Dilbert-esque things are added to our repertoire of funny memories to ponder on, smile, and talk about later. I suppose there are some things we’d all like to forget. But overall, work experiences I think should become part of our personal memoirs – not to publish, but to add to our expansive banks of wisdom gained from experience. And one thing we know for sure, where people are involved, invariably we will have some funny moments – perhaps that could be portrayed in a three-frame comic strip.  

Take Back Your Life

Voice Write Media (Jeff Hicks)

Are you enslaved by daily habits or influences that stifle your productivity? Do you find yourself being plagued with tasks and activities that do not contribute to your personal goals and ideals? Here are a few simple steps to take back your life.

Personal Guiding Principles Statement
Everyone must draw-up and incorporate a few principles that will guide their decisions and activities in life. Nearly every person recognizes their own basic values that are learned from childhood. However, surprisingly, people often don’t construct those values into a fluid structure that will guide their decisions and activities. So, at the moment of decision, those people are not resolute and often get pegged with being wishy-washy, weak, or ineffective. If you are one of those people, you can overcome that weakness by creating a personal guiding principles statement (P-GPS).

Imagine yourself hiking through a thick forest without any distinct trail that will guide you to your destination. The beauty of the forest is magnificent as you bask in the exquisite colors and sounds surrounding you. However, you are troubled because the further you walk into the forest, the more lost you become since there is no defined trail. With the tall trees surrounding you, you are unable to determine your location or direction of travel.

Suddenly, you remember the GPS in your front pocket. After turning it on, you are quickly able to mark your location and the direction of your destination in relation to your surroundings. That is exactly what your P-GPS will do for you personally as you navigate whatever paths you choose in your career and personal life. Your P-GPS distinctly defines your personal “position” in context with your chosen surroundings and environment.

Your P-GPS is a statement containing some broad descriptors that explicitly define you. It’s a good idea to use terms in your statement that are broad and general, in order to cover all the vast expanse that defines your purpose and existence. Here is my P-GPS. Be compassionate and virtuous, honest and ethical, real and present, open minded but solid in my convictions.

You may be asking, “What does a P-GPS have to do with personal and time management?” The answer is your P-GPS is the foundation of principles and values with which your daily life is structured. In fact you may even recognize that the values contained in your P-GPS guided your educational choices, career path, and the other major elements in your life that subsequently dictate what your daily tasks entail.

Core Ideals that Dictate Actions
Every person has a few things with which they “hang their hat.” These ideals dictate a person’s views and actions and usually influence a person’s daily and weekly routine. Here’s an example. Consider all the people you know who follow a strict religious standard of Sunday worship. One of their personal ideals that govern their activities is the belief that Sunday is a day of rest and should be reserved for religious service and worship. Each Sunday, these folks make a conscious decision to be sitting in the pews at church. In contrast, consider your friends who find Sunday solace by visiting nature. Every weekend, they head for the hills to partake of nature’s beauty and serenity. Both of these groups have Sunday ideals but define them differently.

In order to take control of your personal life and manage your time effectively, you must determine what your core ideals are. Take some time, be true and honest with yourself, and define your core ideals. As an example, I’ve listed my core ideals:

  1. happiness and safety of my wife and children
  2. belief in God, daily prayer, Sunday church worship
  3. career for professional growth and income
  4. education

As you confirm your core ideals, you will recognize how they influence the daily and weekly activities in your life. If you are firm in those ideals, you will not allow outside influences on a whim to alter your actions based on those ideals. You will soon be recognized as one resolute in your goals and life’s direction. The actions facilitated by those ideals will define who you are.

Managing the Daily Grind
Everyone on earth has the same amount of time–exactly 24 hours each day to accomplish their goals and tasks. However, we can all stipulate that some folks just seem to accomplish a lot more with that 24-hour allotment than others. It’s a fact; they do. And the reason is they have a game plan.

After you’ve established your Personal Guiding Principles Statement and defined your core ideals, you have a great understanding of who you are and what defines you. You can now plan your days and weeks with purpose. Your planning will now illuminate your personal standards of excellence and draw you towards activities representative of your personal goals.

How often have you found yourself sitting at your computer, your eyes glazed-over, with your fingers methodically clicking your mouse as you surf through the countless images and links on your favorite social networking site? I’ve been there! I recall times that I easily wasted a full day checking out all the cool things my “friends” posted. Connecting with friends and associates via the internet has its place, but we all know that an inordinate amount of time can be lost in the process–time we will never get back!

So, how do we avoid the pitfalls of time wasting? The answer is found in personal discipline and planning. You manage the discipline part and then follow this simple planning sequence for immediate success.

You will need a daily journal recording device or notebook. Years ago, I used a small flip-notebook that easily fit inside my shirt or inside suit breast pocket. Now I use my iPhone. Whatever device you choose, you need to have it with you always and make sure it can easily be written in. Since I always have my phone wherever I go, I prefer to use it. If you like, a rectangular pocket calendar will work just fine.

Now for the “meat and potatoes” of this game plan. At the beginning and end of your day, you must allocate five minutes of quiet time for only yourself. Here is what you will do with this short, but invaluable time:

  • list on your chosen device the tasks that must be completed on this day–record them
  • review yesterday’s list of tasks and bring forward any that still need to be completed
  • rate each task according to importance and expediency
  • list activities that either you are expected to participate in or you desire to participate in
  • establish the time parameters for activities–IE. Internet surfing: 15 minutes, grocery shopping: 60 minutes, staff meeting: 30 minutes
  • record any prudent reminders–IE. Jimmy’s birthday, the visiting VIP’s name is Colonel Zogg
  • Review all your tasks and activities for the day and make a mental note how each contributes to your P-GPS and/or your core ideals
  • Review your task and activity list often throughout the day. Follow it explicitly! When an activity or task is complete, cross it out.
  • At the end of the day, take a moment to record your successes and make notes for the next day’s activities.

As you perform this exercise at the beginning and end of each day, you will soon notice your mind beginning to bend toward personal order and constructive time management. You will draw positive parallels with your tasks and activities in relation with your core ideals and guiding principles. You will gain self-discipline and will no longer find yourself being overtaken by mind-numbing activities that you admit are a complete waste of your valuable time, unless it is specifically planned.

As you incorporate this simple plan, I promise that you will be more productive. Productivity brings happiness. Taking back your life brings happiness!

Three Steps to Know Thyself

Inscribed on the forecourt of the Temple at Delphi is the Greek maxim, Gnothi Seauton. In English, that maxim means, ‘Know Thyself.’ It’s an aphorism used numerous times in the dialogues of Socrates by Plato.

I’ve encountered the phrase in other places. Years ago, as I was working my way through a master’s program in International Relations, I encountered the phrase in an academic text examining the intricacies of world governments, nations, and cultures. That maxim, ‘Know Thyself’ was a call to action by the author. He posited that before we can really understand others, we must first know ourselves.

So, what does it mean to know thyself? Sounds simple enough. At first thought, I’m sure most people think, ‘I know myself well–I’ve been living with myself for years!’

But on an existential level, do we really know ourselves? And is it fact that, as an end, it really justifies the means? Is there actual benefit in knowing myself or is it philosophical gas? And to what degree must I know myself before it’s determined that I’m eligible to understand others?

Those are all questions that became the foundation for my looking more closely at the issue. It’s my nature to question everything. Some of my questions, I’m certain, kept me out of Yale. But, I admit I must know the why’s and how’s before I accept most conclusions even on matters that others may find simple.

As I grew and matured, the questions became more complex as my horizons broadened. Wisdom gained from experience will do that. But it was in my formative years when my questions contained more depth, I began to analyze people and cultures. Ever since, it’s been a hobby of mine to try to understand the nature of individuals, groups, and nations.

But in that end, I’m always driven back to the original question, ‘how does one actually come to know himself or herself?’ What is the process? Does it happen quickly or does one have to labor through harrowing steps to reach that final stage of enlightenment?

In a general sense, I think the answer lies with the individual. We all process information differently and we see the world and our individual environments differently. So, it would follow that the process of coming to know oneself would depend on individual learning styles and understanding.

I’ve listed three things you could use to enhance the process. They worked for me and I think they will work for you–moving closer to that final goal encompassed in the phrase, ‘Know Thyself.’

Write Your Memoir

Years ago, I embarked on a project of story writing. The stories I wrote were true stories of my life written to my kids. I wanted them to know what life was like growing up in the 60’s and 70’s. I wanted them to catch a glimpse of life growing up in Idaho. I had many mysterious and adventurous tales rattling around in my mind that needed life. So, I started the project, one story at a time. Soon, I had a large number of tales, so I set about connecting them in a logical, time-oriented format.

I found the process delightful as I discovered common themes throughout the story. My story project soon took shape as a mystery novel, an adventure novel, and a love story combined into one. And there were even elements of a ‘How-to’ story appearing here and there to add flavor and intrigue. All those genres were represented in a book that, as I wrote the final paragraph, had become a 130,000-word anthology of the first 20 years of my life.

I encourage you to do the same–write your story! Mention every important detail that molded you into what you are today. Discuss relationships, adventures, failures, quirky behaviors, goals, and anything that delves into your inner self. One way to do this is to start like I did. Write some stories. And then connect those stories into chapters. Transition them using simple techniques of ‘time and place’ descriptions. Get creative!

I’ve had some folks say, ‘I have a hard time remembering the details of my life. There’s no way I could write a memoir. I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast this morning, let alone what I did last year or twenty years ago!’

Memory is an interesting thing and sometimes, it is hard to recall the minutia of our lives. But often those are the very details that are most interesting. Here’s a method you might try in order to recall things more clearly. It’s a method I developed and used for my own memoir. It’s a simple game I call, ‘General-to-Specific.’ Here’s how it works.

Get a pen and paper and find a comfortable place to sit where it’s quiet and peaceful. After you get comfortable, close your eyes and mentally transport your mind back in time to a place and time you want to recall. In your mind, find the largest object in that time and place that had meaning to you. It might be a house you lived in, a car you drove, your favorite building, store, business, or amusement park.

After you mentally picture that large object in your mind, imagine yourself standing or sitting in or near that object. For example, if you chose a house you lived in, imagine yourself standing on the porch of that house. Then mentally look around and try to recall every detail that touched or related to that object. It might be people, trees, roads, cars, or other buildings. Then recall every single thing you experienced with that object in relation to the other things around it.

You might remember people’s faces, names, experiences you had, or things you witnessed. As soon as your memory files open-up, start writing down the things you recall. I found it easier to write single words or short phrases that described those memories. You just want to be able to jog your memory when you come back to those notes later.

The final step in the process is to write those memories into coherent strings of thought and form them into stories. Using this process, you might find the details of your life were more interesting than you thought. As you read and ponder on your finished memoir, you will notice general themes that define the real you.

Take a Personality Test

We’ve all seen numerous tests on social media that identify personality traits. Typically, those tests ask a barrage of questions, and based on the answers you give to those questions, a profile is identified describing your personality.

My favorite test is found using the URL www.16personalities.com. There, you will find a secured website where you can take a short test made up of general questions regarding psychological preferences of the world around you and how you make decisions.

The test and results are based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) developed primarily by Kathrine Cook Briggs and her daughter. MBTI is established from the conceptual theory proposed by Carl Jung who speculated there are four principle psychological functions through which human beings experience the world. They are ‘sensation, intuition, feeling, and thinking.’ Typically, one of the four functions is dominant for most people most of the time.

Of course, no test can completely measure or define a person’s personality with all its depth and intricacies. But it’s a reliable guide.

After you discover your personality profile, peruse the related literature describing your profile. Doing that, you may identify interesting tidbits of new understanding about your thoughts, feelings, and actions related to your personality.

Construct Your Guiding Principles Statement

The last step in this exercise of coming to ‘know thyself’ is to formulate your own guiding principles statement. The benefits from this simple activity are huge. A personal guiding principles statement is a concise, descriptive statement containing your core values defining your purpose and existence.

Some basic questions you might ask yourself when you construct your guiding principles statement are: How do I view myself in relation to others? What key words would I use to describe my business dealings? Do I believe in a being or power higher than myself? How do I view the ethics of work, recreation, finances, economy, and patriotism?

As you ponder those questions, view yourself as you are now and then how you wish to become. Define yourself. Once you have done that, write a single sentence containing all the descriptive words that define who you are. And then memorize that statement.

Your guiding principles statement is important because it helps remind you in explicit terms the values most important to you. Those core values guide your life’s decisions and broadly determine who you are and what you will become.

Coming to ‘know thyself’ is a process of discovery. It can’t be done overnight. It takes time. It may take days or weeks of self-reflection and introspection using the three steps listed in this essay.

Once you truly come to ‘know thyself’ you can, according to the Greek philosophers, more productively address the greater good in your community by understanding others.

DEEPFAKES: The Counterfeit Media Craze

We have all witnessed manipulation, blackmail, and extortion. Why? Well, because we live on planet earth. That’s what humans do to each other. We have also seen people go to great lengths to embarrass or defame others. All these mean-spirited methods were conceived by evil, conspiring, and I might add – often highly intelligent human beings. Or maybe some jilted lover just wanted to get even. The latest ruse aimed at people is a relatively new technology called deepfakes or AI generated videos. Those are videos that depict real people doing and saying whatever the creator of the video chooses. Yes, you read it correctly. You can now make a video of another person saying and doing anything you want – in their own voice and explicit likeness!

A few years ago, I began following the news reports as they flooded the media outlets regarding this new technology. It was intriguing to me; I imagined all the possibilities of being able to exactly replicate the body movements and voices of virtually any person in existence to say and do anything. The possibilities seemed endless in my creative mind. But in my mind I also saw the other, horrible side of this technology. What if someone decided to create a deepfake of an enemy, an ex-spouse, revered religious leader, or politician; the star in a video depicting an embarrassing or illegal act?

‘Deepfake’ is a term coined in 2017 describing videos made by superimposing or combining existing images and videos onto source images and videos using machine learning technology. You might initially think, “Well, like other counterfeit media I’ve seen, I will be able to pick out the fake stuff without any problem.” Well, that may not be as easy at you think. According to a May/June 2019 Foreign Affairs article, “Intelligence agencies will face the Herculean task of exposing deepfakes. The technology, known as generative adversarial networks, pits two computer algorithms against each other, one generating images while the other attempts to spot fakes.” Because the algorithms learn by competing with each other, any deepfake detectors are unlikely to work for long before being outsmarted. In other words, it could be virtually impossible to detect a deepfake, even using available technology.

Recently, a South Korean news anchor began her show by going through the day’s headlines. It was the ‘normal’ list of stories for the end of the year – pandemic and COVID-19 updates. However, this particular show was far from normal. The news anchor had been replaced by a ‘deepfake’ version of herself – a computer generated copy that perfectly reflected her voice, gestures, and facial expressions. To viewers, what they saw was an exact AI version of the news anchor. At first glance, it was impossible to tell the real person from the fake.

Viewers had been informed before the show began that what they would see was not the ‘real’ version of their favorite news anchor. Some of their responses included, “I am worried how people will make a living in the future if AI replaces real people!” Another person remarked, “Is there a need for actual newscasters? AI programs might articulate words better than humans.”  Regardless of what people think about deepfake technology, the technology is here, and the ramifications are as open and broad as the imaginations of the creators of the videos.

Some watchdog groups are calling for technology companies or individuals who develop deepfake or AI-generated video apps to bear the responsibility of developing verification techniques and including them into the software. These additions to the software would include markers that alert a user that the media is synthetic and not real. Communications of the ACM, an online technology journal recently published an article, “What to do about Deepfakes.” The article stated, “Technical experts should develop and evaluate verification strategies, methods, and interfaces. The enormous potential of deepfakes to deceive viewers, harm subjects, and challenge the integrity of social institutions such as news reporting, elections, business, foreign affairs, and education, makes verification strategies an area of great importance.”

Unfortunately, in many democratic nations with free markets and freedom of speech and press rights, controlling deepfake technology will eventually fall on respective legislative bodies to pass laws regulating the creation and usage of such media. But don’t look for that to begin until the damage is well in progress and thousands of people’s reputations and dignity have been slammed and defamation lawsuits have flooded the court systems. And don’t look for developers to regulate themselves, as Communications of the ACM strongly suggests they should.  

To protect yourself from becoming a victim of deepfake technology, there are a few things you can do. Keep in mind, however, that if you have already participated in social media by sharing pictures, friend lists, and personal information, you are already at risk. Lock down your friend lists and make them invisible to others. Be very selective with whom you share pictures and personal information. Set up all security features on every social media platform you use. And report any suspicious activities or weird behaviors. Good luck; you’ll need it.

You want to know what deepfake technology looks like? Check out this video; it’s a deepfake.