Tag Archives: Historical reference

a belief

a belief

The story is told of two men, who desiring to safeguard their riches, decided to conceal them by burial. One of the men selected an area below a tree, the other choose a place within his garden. Having selected places they deemed safest, both men went about burying their gold, silver, and jewels.

Time passed and soon proved both men had failed in the choices they made. The man who buried his treasures in the garden mistakenly assumed someone stole his treasures because he could not find them. However he had simply just forgot the exact spot where he had buried them. The other man who had buried his below a tree was unaware a thief was watching in the near distance. No sooner had he tamped the dirt and departed, the thief came and exhumed the treasures.

Both men continued on living under an illusion, one thinking he had plenty yet had nothing while the other thinking he had nothing but had plenty.

Earlier this year I mentioned in my post Shadow or Substance a term used in the financial industry known as a “market bubble”. Recently I was reminded of that when I read something Al Gore said regarding oil. Calling out fossil fuels he categorized them as a carbon bubble: “Bubbles by definition involve a lot of asset owners and investors who don’t see what in retrospect becomes blindingly obvious. And this carbon bubble is going to burst.”

The blindingly obvious – that statement stands out to me. We’ve both heard it and phrased it in other ways ourselves: “Hindsight is 20/20” or “If I’d only knew then what I know now”.  What is about the obvious that’s so elusive? Like sleight of hand, an act is carried out right before our very eyes yet something else had our attention.

Charles Mackay wrote a book in 1841 titled Extraordinary Popular Delusions & the Madness of Crowds. In it he describes the events that unfolded in Europe when the country was first introduced to the Tulip flower. Imported by the Turks, the tulip became an item of renown. As their fame spread, tulips became a status symbol and were considered a luxurious item. Some growers aiming to set their tulips apart began transmitting a virus into the bulbs. By creating unique color patterns, their bulbs would stand out from the rest. Everyone else caught on and moved in the same direction.

As time went on, contracts to buy bulbs at the end of their growing season were bought and sold. In his book, Mackay gives an account of people selling off or trading valuable possessions in order to participate in the Tulip market. At the height of Tulip Mania as it would become known, single tulip bulbs sold for more than 10 times the average annual income.

Today you can buy 10 bulbs for less than $6.00.

We shake our heads at the idea of masses being influenced by a flower. We laugh at the idea that an entire country could think something so temporal could possess such value. But how is it any different today? Our culture permits items with basic function and single purpose to net a return which generations before would scoff at. Purses, sunglasses, watches and a host of peripherals exceed the cost of cars, houses, or logical investments. Yet today society permits this and even celebrates it. Some prices are driven by inflation, some are driven by demand, and some are driven by ignorance.

“A fool and his money are soon parted”

A belief about something does not substantiate a reality…there may just be too many letters present.

Copyright © 2013 J.M. Cortés

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Let them burn

More concerning Half Measures and Inaction:

Hernando Cortes was not a man of half measures or inaction. At a particular crisis point in his expedition of Mexico, with nationals to conquer and a deployment from Spain en route to apprehend him, a brazen act was carried out.  Some argue that my family’s patriarch did not actually burn his ships but simply disabled them; others say he destroyed all but one. But whether he set them ablaze, limited their nautical ability, or destroyed all but one Hernando Cortes was not about half measures. Furthermore inaction would not work at that moment of decision. Arriving on the shores of Mexico, Cortes immediately went about conquering the nationals. Some fell by their deference to him and some fell by force. But when word of the imminent arrest reached Cortes, he prepared decisvely. A former superior of Cortes had authorized his capture and was portraying the expedition as an act of mutiny. Cortes knew that success would only come if he could conquer Mexico. So the ships had to burn.

It was not an act of desperation or insanity; there was no sign in the heavens driving him toward euphoric zeal. So what motivated him to do it then? Two very specific things; one was the innate characteristic of true leadership which is decisiveness. I believe this was important but I also believe it was secondary in that moment. The main reason had to have been his knowledge of history. Centuries before, his own country had been invaded by Muslims. Though the Spaniards outnumbered them 5 to 1, they were still defeated and their homeland seized. At the helm of the invading Muslims was a leader that determined to conquer Spain or die trying. His command upon arrival was to disembark and burn the ships they arrived on. If alive they would have a country of ships to pick from and if otherwise, dead men require no transportation.  

Cortes recognized this moment called for the same mindset. If arrested by the coming envoy, they would fail. If the nationals became aware that these ‘god-like’ warriors could be defeated they would fail. So calling upon the reserve of fortitude found within every leader, he removed any option that did not end as he would have it. In other words, he would be the author of his outcome. He would defeat the nationals or die trying. He would resist the envoy or die trying. Eventually he came face to face with those sent to arrest him and he conquered them. Less than 2 years after that, he had fully conquered the Aztec Empire. But before that happened, the ships had to burn.

Half Measures are equal to having ships to retreat with. Half measures carry a tone of uncertainty which leads to insecurity. A hand shaking with fear does not handle a sword effectively. Had Cortes used any language less than definitive or displayed any resolve less than certain, he never would have survived. Donald Rumsfeld recently spoke up about the importance of a direct response to the issues in Syria by stating “the essence of leadership is clarity”. As the world looked on, the US would have to speak clearly about Syria’s actions and thus a fitting response.

 “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle”

A cause worth living for naturally means it is worth dying for. Alexander the Great landed on the shores of Persia. With the expansion of his father’s kingdom in sight, there was no stopping place in his mind. Interestingly, he burned his ships alongside those shores as well.

I think there is something to this whole “burn the ships” thing.

Copyright © 2013 J.M. Cortés

The consequences of Half Measures and Inaction

“The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.” – Winston Churchill

It was a Saturday on the 7th day of March in 1936. The orders were given and they marched into The Rhineland. Violating a Treaty that had been signed into existence nearly 17 years earlier, the act was veiled as reconstruction but was truly an act of aggression. At the close of World War 1, the Treaty of Versailles had imposed geographic restrictions upon Germany. Adolf Hitler exhibiting his ascendency in Germany and ignoring the Treaty sent his soldiers into the demilitarized Rhineland. Ironically (and to his surprise) many Europeans acted as though they barely noticed. France was nearest the encroachment and some concerned by it appealed to Britain for support.

Recognizing the magnitude of Hitler’s violation, Winston Churchill stood before the British House of Commons and called upon them to act. The quote at the beginning of this commentary comes from his appeal to them. But to his dismay, they dismissed Hitler’s move as behavior of a fairly new leader working in favor of his country. Furthermore a common sentiment was that the Treaty had been too restrictive and Germany moving (back) into an area where ‘German speaking people’ already lived was natural. Compounding the uncertainty was the reality that many in France did not want to ‘deal with it’. It was a time of elections and what politician would risk controversy by suggesting a costly military action or even war.

There are differing schools of thought concerning Hitler’s actions; some view it as an indirect catalyst for World War 2 while others say it was simply a choice that lead to many other choices. Hitler essentially called out France by his actions and was even concerned they might react. But his concerns were unnecessary because they did not move. Later he would express his initial hesitancy: “The 48 hours after the march into the Rhineland were the most nerve-racking in my life. If the French had then marched into the Rhineland we would have had to withdraw.”

But “The ox knows where the weak part of the fence is”.

Churchill’s prophetic warning came into focus when the world did enter a period of consequences; we call it World War 2. But whether one sees the violation of the Treaty as a direct or indirect cause of the WW2, it was still an act that could have and should have been addressed. Perhaps Hitler getting parked would have eventually been followed by another act and with the same results.

But that’s not the point. The point is that half measures and inaction will never change your circumstance. Keep playing with your addiction. Keep putting off making an intentional change to your situation. Handle your problem with kid gloves if you like, but soon they will handle you.

Decisive action and follow through makes the change. I will continue in my next post with more regarding half measures and inaction.

To be continued…

Copyright © 2013 J.M. Cortés

Shadow or Substance?

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Emerging dream, may form now be told

Earnest move toward, only now behold

Ere substance is seized, shadow ensuing appears

Embrace the corporal afore the surreal

Essence as vapor will not apprehend

Ensure it be substance for shadow a tale spins

Substance o’er Shadow

 by J.M. Cortés

 In the financial industry there is a term known as a “market bubble”. Some may question its existence but just defining this “bubble” reveals an essence of this is true. Simply put, a market or economic bubble occurs when something is being traded on at prices inconsistent with its intrinsic value. Typically this is due to a perception or forecast on a particular trade which inflates its value beyond a reasonable norm. I remember witnessing a financial bubble ‘pop’ in the town I grew up in.

It all had to do with Emus, flightless birds that stand around 5 to 6 feet tall and weigh about 150 pounds. In the mid to late 90’s their value was expected to ‘soar’ and ranchers were adding them to their livestock count. Texas became the Emu capital of America with nearly 3,000 breeders working to create an Emu surplus. Driving the Emu Mania was an idea that their lean flesh would be the steak of tomorrow. But that idea quickly proved false; the bubble popped and thus the Emu wasted many a rancher’s investment. When reality set in ranchers and breeders, were the not so proud owners of birds that could not yield a profit. Unable to ‘do anything’ with them and unwilling to feed or care for them, many owners released their Emus by the droves into the countryside.

Ownership of these birds was not limited to ranchers or owners of large land areas. I recall seeing these birds in the backyards of residential homes. All kinds of visionaries at the start were ready to capitalize upon the great Emu. But when the bubble popped, no one needed or wanted them. Some killed their Emus while others just let them ‘run off’. When people saw them running down the highways or wherever, it was known why. One morning as I walked out to my car I heard the rapid footfalls of a large animal coming at me. I turned in time to see an Emu running towards me before it jolted off toward another direction. Truly, there is no degree of embellishment in what I have written. Today all that remains of the Emu Mania are some folks promoting (and selling I might add) Emu “Oil” for it’s medicinal benefit. Perhaps it is residual brain fluid from Emus euthanized by baseball bats? (That really happened too)

There are other examples that could be given concerning the infamous market bubble. But the crux of the matter is we should look for substance before awing over a shadow. People duped into pursuing “something for nothing” have been manipulated by shadows rather than influenced by substance. And all the “get rich quick” schemes have played out; those who fall prey to them have an unrealistic view of what defines value. Anything of true value has met certain criteria and is supported by established standards. Nothing costs nothing! Before a shadow can be cast, there must first be a substance to create it.

Without a doubt, there is a market for shadows and the multitudes have lined up to purchase them. Purveyors of the generic and counterfeit capitalize upon this by providing a substitute. Individually these will never garner the return true substance renders but a profit by volume awaits. As you are reading this, you might be thinking of generic versions of various products. While mainstream businesses manufacture their clothing line, beauty products, electronics, and etc. someone else is preparing an alternate version right behind them. There is not an industry that we cannot find a mainstream and generic representation. One has an appraisal that establishes its cost (Substance) and the secondary has a cost established because of the original (Shadow).

An allegory is the deeper purpose of this commentary; there is a dichotomy between Substance and Shadows. The valuable, dependable, and overall useful is found in the Substance. It is that which has been built with quality materials and purposeful workmanship. Going throughout life taking shortcuts and settling for the inferior is living in the Shadow. It may be cheaper and easily accessible but will it last? And remember, though there may be promotion of some great new thing it may be just another form of Emu Mania.

Every day we are constructing the life we live. We must exercise caution in selecting the material and tools we build with. Cutting corners and sloppy workmanship for the sake of speed or ease is foolish. Obviously what we are building we intend (or hope) to last. But its capability of lasting is dependent upon what we are using.

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

2013: The Scapegoat comes to an End…

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Photograph: Copyright © 2009 Mike Bade

“Victory has many fathers but defeat is an orphan” – Galeazzo Ciano

It was considered by all of them a time of new beginnings. Expectation and aspirations filled the air as if they were a soft, enticing fragrance. The weather made its transition from the rain-less  scorching days of summer to a tranquility offered by no other season than autumn. Situated far enough east of the Mediterranean Sea, the city escaped the residual humidity lingering from the end of the season. The nights were just shy of being cold and the daily temperatures would not overheat but offer comfortable warmth instead.

The citizens of the city gathered in the temple’s courtyard and all eyes were upon the High Priest. He made his way to the Upper Gate that was situated on the eastern side of the courtyard. There waiting for him was a bound goat bleating sounds of frustration. When the High Priest stood before the goat, he dropped his right hand down hard upon the head of the goat. Hand in place; he began to confess the shared failings and transgressions of the people over the goat. At this action, those assembled in the courtyard fell prostrate silently whispering their own confessions of failure.

At the conclusion of this the High Priest commanded the goat be lead out of the courtyard, out of the city and into the wilderness. This goat became known as the scapegoat; all of their failures as individuals and as a nation were now imparted upon it. It was banished to the wilderness and sometimes purposefully led to a cliff for it to wander off of.

What I have described is how the holiday of Yom Kippur was celebrated in antiquity.  This holiday occurs in the first month of the Hebrew calendar which corresponds to September. It was believed that God during the beginning of the month would inscribe the person’s fate for the upcoming year in a Book of Life. Then on the day of Yom Kippur, the outcome would be sealed.

Today is January 1 of 2013 and all have received a new beginning. The misinterpretation of what December 21 signified on the Mayan Calendar’s was confirmed nearly 2 weeks ago. We are beyond that as well as the rest of 2012’s misinterpretations. Was 2012 a year defined by success for you? Was it a year of defeat? Reflecting on the events of the year, we might recall tears shed in sadness and tears shed for joy. We might reflect upon good memories and bad memories. But regardless of what we remember the most of, the focus must now be upon 2013.

At the beginning of this commentary was a quote found in the diary of Benito Mussolini’s son in law who was a Foreign Minister of Italy. Things were changing in him and his view of his country’s role in World War 2. His statement sums up the feelings of many who pursue success (victory). Everyone is ready to stand up for the credit of what worked, what solved the problem, and what made the difference. Yet when things fall apart rarely does anyone want their name attached to it. We’ve seen it in every social dynamic from work to family situations to events involving friends or acquaintances. While there are many contributing factors to something being defined successful, most important is that which was is honestly a part of it. Credit should be given where credit is due and what did not work needs to be admitted to as well.

I recently read a quote of Will Smith that encapsulates what I am confronting in this commentary. He said: “If you’re absent during my struggle don’t expect to be present during my success”. A true friend, a true companion, a true love will be with you when you are down and when you are up. Life will take you down some hard roads and when the day of reckoning finally arrives look up and see who is standing with you. They are your support base, they are your real friends, and they are the ones who truly love you. And when failure comes to those you care about, do not abandon them but help them. Lose the judgmentalism, don’t focus on the disappointment, and forget about saying “I told you so”. Take them by the hand, lift them up and walk with them. Whichever side you find yourself on of this paradigm, beware of contemplating the use of a scapegoat.

Many spend their entire lives depending upon the scapegoat; something they can blame their failures on. To them it seems easier to rely on their scapegoat as their prepared response. They can ascribe their shortcomings to it then cast it out to a place where it will never be found. The scapegoat will be an option for you in 2013 but you must choose another way. When difficulty comes, when resistance confronts you, do not run nor reach for the scapegoat. Settle it in your mind now: you will encounter trouble and somewhere an obstructionist awaits you. There is also a possibility those standing with you now might not be by the end of 2013.

You must decide that you will rise with them or in spite of them.

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

 

Relativism…the road that leads nowhere

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Anaximander, a pre-Socratic philosopher, is thought to have been the first to create a map of the known world. His visionary efforts at cartography would serve as a foundation for modern day geography. He, like other early map makers, created their maps with Greece as the centre of the world. This was primarily rooted in national pride with an idea of Greece as the world’s epicenter. But on a deeper level, this revealed a great deal about their overall world view. This “center of the world” mentality did not end with the map makers of antiquity; it is alive and well today. One of the ways it manifests today is through ‘Relativism’.

Relativism is a philosophy best defined, not by what it affirms, but rather what it denies. Relativism denies the idea of absolute truth and views “truth” as subjective. The saying “Beauty is in the eye of the Beholder” could be the sum of Relativism – “Truth is in the eye of the beholder”. What drives Relativism is an idea that what is true for some might not be true for others. Truth becomes relative to some point of reference rather than actually existing in a tangible fashion. Again, Relativism is best defined by what it denies not what it affirms. The first recognized father of Relativism was Protagoras who said: “Man is the measure of all things”. He placed humanity as being the author and definer of Truth. Both Socrates and Plato opposed Protagoras’ philosophy by pointing out its foundational compromise. To emphatically deny the existence of absolute truth would also be an admission to a truth’s existence (i.e. emphatic denial of absolute truth).

Relativism is duplicity in the least and a precursor to anarchy at worse. I say this because I believe the end of a thing should be the basis for its beginning. What is the ending point of Relativism? How would Relativism and our Legal System coexist? Is there a basic and universal code of morals that humanity should abide by? According to Relativism’s end, these morals become subjective; one may believe they are right while another chooses not to. Proponents of Relativism fancy themselves as anti-establishment which is driven by a perception of free will. I recognize that perspectives are influenced by cultural, racial, and educational points of view. But there has to be a prevailing reality; there also has to be an absolute truth.

A term associated with Relativism is Postmodernism. This term retains some use in westernized culture but is dissolving in parts of Europe. Postmodernism claims that realities are social constructs subject to change. This is upheld by Relativism’s assertion that absolute truth is nonexistent and “binary classifications” are what creates a division. Thus a reality’s existence becomes dependent on a demographic with its ideals and agenda. When the demographic shifts its focus on something else, the reality adjusts or dissolves. As the demographic evolves the reality evolves with it.

You are perhaps familiar with the parable of 7 blind men and an elephant. The lesson presented in this parable depicts blind men attempting to describe what they felt an elephant was like. To one man an elephant was like a wall for he felt its side. To another an elephant was like a pillar for he felt its feet. To another an elephant was like a brush, for he only felt the tip of its tail. Thus each blind mind’s perspective was right according to their experience. Relativism would say all of them are right because they are basing their concept of an elephant on their perspective.

But is an elephant a wall, pillar or brush? No, an elephant is a mammal in the pachyderm classification. This is not a subjective truth, this is a quantified reality based on a scientific classification. Systems of Law, Morality, and such like are the same. For a society to remain intact it needs boundaries otherwise it will fall into barbarianism. Relativism may fancy itself as enlightened thought but I say it is reductionist thinking and a pretext for people to do what they want. Some folks are like the original map makers, wherever they are is where they think the world begins. There is a reason the great thinkers of antiquity opposed Relativism; it is a road that leads nowhere.

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

The Nobel Being

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A 13 year old boy was brought before Aristotle to become his student. Already proving to be intelligent and eager to learn, Aristotle found it easy to inspire this child to love literature. He taught this child how to fortify arguments in a debate and how to present them. He taught this child how to intellectually justify the need for self-control and self-denial. He placed high emphasis on the need for honor so the young man would see its importance in the life of a ruler.  This child absorbed these lessons and more. But one of the lessons that Aristotle placed in the heart of his student that would eventually impact the whole world was that of taking Dominion of Human Nature.

Though ethnocentric at its root, an ideology was instilled in the young man which became the framework for his method of rule. Aristotle taught him barbaric people are controlled by impulse to satisfy every base desire. Therefore he should rule his nation as a honorable leader and become a despot to the barbarians of the world. With these and many other lessons, Alexander the Great would go on to conquer the known world before age 33.

Because of how humanity has evolved socially, its current view of “barbarianism” would deem Aristotle’s lessons as intolerance at the least. (Perhaps even tyrannical at worst) Literally, Aristotle put it into the heart of Alexander the Great that uncivilized people should be treated as beasts. Aristotle viewed barbarians as people who were incapable of restraint. And yet we must also recognize today, if restraints are cast off and every appetite was allowed to be indulged society itself would crumble in anarchy. Barbarianism is alive and well today; its manifestations appearing in the form of horrible crimes such as murder, rape, and robbery. It also manifests through means less consequential but severe nonetheless. Individual indulgences gratified with complete disregard for its impact on others. An attitude prevailing that says “I will do whatever I want and whenever I want”. This is not the mind set of rational civilization; this is the mind set of barbarianism.

Aristotle expanded his view of human nature from what he had been taught at one time by Plato. Plato divided the natures of humanity into two principle categories, one side he called Rational and the other he called Animal. “We are good when reason rules and bad when we are dominated by our desires”  He presented a dichotomy of human reason and animal instincts to pursue wants. He concluded that “self-mastery” would always be paradoxical because to master one’s self would also mean to equally be subject to one’s self.

I believe Aristotle took this concept and placed it in a paradigm of society where mankind cannot prosper as an authority to himself. Containment of nature would be the product of education and societal expectation.  In closing, I want to expound upon the origin of this commentary’s title which also happens to be the inspiration for writing it. It comes from something that I read Hsün-tzu (Art of War) say regarding civilized humanity:

“Fire and water possess energy but are without life. Grass and trees have life but no intelligence. Birds and beasts have intelligence but no sense of duty. Man possesses energy, life, intelligence, and, in addition, a sense of duty. Therefore he is the noblest being on earth. He is not as strong as the ox, nor as swift as the horse, and yet he makes the ox and the horse work for him. Why? Because he is able to organize himself in society and they are not.”  

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

Do not run!

The final moments that typically precede hand to hand combat are when two opponents have found the resolve to engage their enemy. In one or both of their minds, they have decided that overcoming their opponent is possible. They also have accepted the risks associated with their choice. Whether the scenario is in a controlled environment such as a training exercise or the situation is real, there is a feeling that must be overcome – Intimidation.

I have been in many real and simulated physical confrontations, the latter being the most recent and frequent. Even when training with people I am familiar with and in a controlled environment, I have to consciously address some things mentally. One is whether I am aware of any level of intimidation I feel in that moment. The other is the importance of controlling my emotions by channeling them into focus on my actions. The intimidation (if present) has to be acknowledged and placed into perspective; am I really at risk? Am I communicating to my opponent apprehension or timidity? The emotional control is important because it will manifest in how I respond, both defensively and offensively.

When engaged in combat there is a risk of tunnel vision, rapid breathing, and muscle exhaustion from being overwrought. Combat breathing techniques regulate your breathing and aid with preventing tunnel vision. Allowing your mind to accept the encounter and ‘relax’ will prevent unnecessary muscle expenditure.

Intimidation…sometimes the fear of an encounter is worse than the encounter itself. Intimidation is when a response is forced upon someone by reason of threat. It is when someone frightens another to submit or comply with them. Feelings of discouragement come upon the intimidated because they perceive the intimidator to be superior to them. If they believe the intimidator, compliance with their wishes will follow.

In his inaugural speech, President John F Kennedy said “Let us never negotiate out of fear” The spirit behind these words is one of internal strength and resolve to avoid yielding to terror. Intimidation, whether valid or unnecessary, can be overcome. The power it possesses is found, not in the threat but in the one being threatened. If the terror being issued cannot penetrate the heart of the threatened, the power is lost. Intimidation is not just an external issue, it can originate within us. We can create our own fears and thus become controlled by them. Since perception is reality then everything rises or falls upon how we perceive a thing.

In conclusion, the account of a statement made by Robert Harper offers an appropriate response to intimidation. The year was 1798 and American diplomats had returned from France. They were sent to negotiate with the French regarding attacks that were being made upon American naval vessels. The French were attacking the American ships because they felt their “waters were being sailed”. The offer by the French to the diplomats was one of tribute, if the American ships wanted to sail their waters they could pay a toll and the threat of attack would be removed. It was in response to the French’s request for tribute that Robert Harper declared that America had “Millions for defense but not one penny for tribute”.

Never run from what opposes you, if you start running you will never quit running.

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés