All posts by Roy Spears

Money/Investment Tips: (Part Two) Credit Cards

Credit cards are necessary but potentially dangerous.

When I was much younger—in my twenties and thirties—having a credit card was a big deal…at least for me. More than anything, credit cards meant status: you were somebody if you had one, and I didn’t have any.

Back in those days, qualifying for a coveted credit card was much tougher than today. I tried to qualify for one or two several times but was denied, probably because I never had one before and my income was not sufficient to meet the bank’s standards. Also, I hated being forced to tell anybody—especially strangers at banks or credit card companies—how much money I earned or had just to get a card.

Funny how things change. I have all the credit cards I want or need and always throw away any advertisements mailed to me informing me I “qualify” for yet another one. Like so much of life, when you no longer need or desire something is the precise time you can finally have it.

Basically, the only card I use is my Discover card, one I’ve had for years. I have one or two others I rarely, if ever use, and I couldn’t tell you right off the top of my head which ones those might be.

We all have our quirks and idiosyncrasies, and one of mine is I despise paying banks and credit card companies one single penny in fees or interest. I’ve had my Discover card for, I believe, over twenty years, and I can recall maybe paying interest on the charges except for once or twice. And this was because I forgot to make a payment, which occasionally happens.

I never carry a balance on my credit cards longer than the usual grace period of one month. Each and every month I pay off the balance in full because, as noted above, I abhor the thought of giving my hard earned money to a credit card company because of interest. To me, the concept is obscene and I won’t do it.

“We all have our quirks and idiosyncrasies, and one of mine is I despise paying banks and credit card companies one single penny in fees or interest…”

Roy Spears

And I’ve been this way my entire life and don’t plan on changing this philosophy anytime soon.

Why do I think this way? For one reason, I believe the interest rates charged by credit card companies and banks to be usurious and ridiculous. Who would agree to be robbed this way, month after month, year after year? It’s insane.

It’s astounding—and foolish— how many people carry huge sums of credit card debt, paying exorbitant interest rates every month—hundreds and hundreds of dollars just in interest payments alone. Who can possibly get financially ahead doing this? Most people can’t, and this is one reason many Americans are broke.

Looking back, I’m glad my applications for credit cards were denied in my younger days. I was forced to live within my humble means and only purchased items I could afford. If I had been issued credit cards, would I have been tempted to max them out, live beyond my means, and become hopelessly trapped in the credit card, self inflicted prison system? Possibly. I might be a slave today to the banks and credit card companies, helplessly drowning in debt and never having the hope—or financial power—of crawling free from underneath that system.

For young people starting out in life, adopting my philosophy toward credit card debt is a wise one. I would even recommend not having any credit cards, but this seems to be an impossibility in today’s world where we have to have credit cards to do most anything: purchasing airline tickets, shopping online, etc.

Unwisely using credit cards can ruin your life.

There are, I’m assuming, still debit cards where you have to have an account with money in it which is then tied to your credit card: how much money is in that account then determines how much “credit” you are then able to qualify for. I find this to be a difficult but better arrangement than what a true credit card is all about because you are forced to once again live within your means—or how much money you have in that account.

Then, as you learn budgeting and the proper use of credit card debt (paying the balance off each and every month so you never have to pay interest, fees or overdrafts), you can transition to a credit card once you qualify and your credit is established.

If you read my first post on money and investment tips, you might recall the helpful phrase I used: it’s the little foxes that spoil the vines. This is one wise saying and, like so many other great maxims, has many potential meanings and applications. For credit card debt, it teaches carrying such debt is one of those “leaks” in our finances which can prevent us from becoming financially healthy and threatens to sink our boats.

So be wise. Recognize and understand both the benefits and dangers of having and using credit cards. And especially if you are just starting off in life on your own, make it a rule you will never buy anything with a credit card unless you can pay it off before being charged interest.

The Legend of King Arthur

I enjoyed watching the video series, Anne of Green Gables, with my daughters when they were small. Since this genre wasn’t something I was inclined to watch for my own enjoyment, I’m glad I was exposed to the movies; I wanted to watch something wholesome and family orientated that would resonate with them.

Anne was fascinated with the Arthurian legend. In one of the scenes from the movies, she reenacted the boat incident from the poem “Lady of Shalott.” Though I first watched this particular scene over 20 years ago, it planted a seed of curiosity within me to learn more of the legend.

I can’t recall whether or not I read much of King Arthur when I was in grade or high school; it was a body of literature I don’t believe I was exposed to or encouraged to read. Though I’ve always enjoyed fantasy and science fiction, the mythical story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table never crossed my literary radar.

Curiously, the references to the legend in society is extensive in certain respects. For example, during the presidency of John F. Kennedy, his aristocratic wife, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, spoke about Camelot, the mythical kingdom/castle of King Arthur, comparing it to her husband’s administration.

I remember this “Camelot” reference and, again, it was a term that stuck in my mind but was something I did not fully understand until later in my life when I started doing research on the topic. This helped fuel my interest in the story of King Arthur.

It wasn’t long ago I stumbled on the magnificent poem, Morte d’Arthur, by Alfred Tennyson. It describes the last moments of King Arthur’s life with his last and most trusted knight, Sir Bedivere, whom Arthur instructed to take his sword, Excalibur, and throw it into a lake.

This poem is, in my opinion, a masterpiece of brilliant and creative writing, capable of stirring the emotions on an unusual level not often experienced in most writing. It moved me when I first read it and still moves me when I read, or listen to it, today.

How I stumbled on the poem is interesting: while listening on Youtube to a famous speech by Winston Churchill, “We shall fight on the beaches,” he quoted this line from the poem:

“Every morn brought forth a noble chance
And every chance brought forth a noble knight…”

This line leapt out at me and I googled it, discovering its origins; the poem has since become one of my favorites.

I admire great writing and talented authors: Tennyson is one of those rare artistic geniuses whose canvas is paper and brush a pen.

Recently, I stumbled on a superb reading of this poem and have listened to it several times. The video is amateurish and distracting in places, but the narration is where the magic happens:

A reading of “Le Morte d’Arthur” by Tennyson

There are several reasons why I like this poem: one is the idealized world which the legend reflects. There is chivalry, bravery, honor, dedication to morality and noble causes, redemption from betrayal, etc.

In the romantic and idealized kingdom of Arthur and his knights, we have a wise king who rules over both his kingdom and subjects in a wise, just, and loving manner.

“Every morn brought forth a noble chance

And every chance brought forth a noble knight.”

Adding drama to this idealized story, we then have treachery, greed and betrayal, and groan to learn that even in a kingdom ruled so wisely and justly by a good king like Arthur, such wonders fail to last. Among the final words of the dying Arthur, this sentiment is expressed:

“The old order changeth, yielding place to new,

And God fulfils Himself in many ways,

Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.”

Tennyson creates a showpiece of emotions using only the power of words. One particularly riveting scene is the internal conflict which raged within Sir Bedivere when he finds himself torn between obedience to Arthur’s last request for him to fling Excalibur in the lake and his sudden greed when he views the jeweled hilt of the sword twinkling in the moonlight. How Bedivere justifies these two acts of disobedience to his king’s dying commands, and how he finally overcomes his failures to obey, is exquisite.

I believe most people yearn for the values found on the “old paths” which the best of American society was founded upon. Sadly, these values are evaporating like the morning mist: the nuclear family, honesty, hard work, commitment, justice, simplicity, integrity, honor, wisdom and plain old common sense.

Those golden days are headed for extinction and I see little hope of Americans recovering what we have lost as a nation and society. Now, we are too divided, almost as divided, it seems, as the North and South were by slavery during our Civil War times.

This is one reason I’ve always been attracted to fantasy and science fiction literature: the real world we live in can be so depressing that temporary relief can be found in what J.R.R. Tolkien labeled the “secondary world,” a fictional, idealized world where the “old paths” are prominently followed and woven into society.

Tennyson’s poem does justice to this idea of a “secondary world” by providing readers with a cast of characters and chains of events that epitomize the values most people yearn for in society. I can relate to that.

Money/Investment Tips (Part One): On Eating Out

I did not come from a wise or rich family. Not having a mentor in the form of a financially savvy parent, older sibling, or other close confidant hurt me in a myriad of ways.

Now at age 62 and looking back on my life, I’m surprised I’ve made it as far as I have. Though not wealthy by any stretch of the definition, I’ve had a few financial successes in life and have not had money problems for years.

I sometimes wonder where I would be if I had a wise dad who lovingly dispensed his knowledge into my life. Much further ahead in life, I’m certain, in more ways than I can imagine.

My path to moderate success and achievement is an interesting one, so much that I think it might be helpful to others—especially younger people starting out in life—to learn from my mistakes, successes, and philosophy.

In that spirit, I will start this new series of posts, “Money/Investment Tips” with this Part One and see where the idea goes. Hopefully, it will help someone to better secure their own financial future and that of their families.

These posts will be random thoughts and will not be in any particular order of importance. For example, this Part One will not represent the most important financial tip of my life, but something I have long observed that sets apart someone with money and those who financially struggle.

Early in my business career as a contractor (I started a painting business circa 1982), I was broke—really broke. I was going to the UA and was 100% self-supportive: no one was paying my bills (though I did take out a Pell grant for my first semester or two and eventually paid it all back) and, like most self-funded students, I struggled to make ends meet.

At one time I was so broke I was reduced to selling my plasma—a horrible experience.

How I got into the painting business is an interesting story, but one I will save for later. I want to discuss what I clearly saw was a waste of money: going out to eat when it came time for lunch.

Painting houses for a living is hard work. I’ve always been an early riser and made it a point to arrive at job sites as early as possible: 6:00 a.m. if the customer didn’t mind and if it was in the summer. My hours would change as the seasons did, but I always wanted to start early.

Since I often worked ten or more hours, I naturally needed to take a lunch break. Most of my jobs were in the foothills of Tucson and not near a fast food joint. Since I took 30 minutes for lunch, hopping in my truck and driving ten or more minutes to some restaurant, ordering food, eating the food, and driving back another ten minutes meant stress due to not enough time for a relaxing, pleasant meal.

The second thing I noticed was the cost. Because of my naturally frugal mindset, I compared what it cost to pack my own lunch versus going out to eat. A home packed lunch cost pennies while going out to eat cost dollars. Calculating this “going out to eat vs. packing my own lunch” over years and decades provided me a no-brainer incentive to pack my own lunch every day, a practice I never abandoned.

And one thing I noticed with other contractors and hourly employees: those who went out to eat every day were the ones who never seemed to have any money. I made the same observation with friends and family members: those who made a regular habit of regularly going out to eat were usually the most broke of all the people I knew.

I’m not alleging this is a rule that is set in stone; there are many people who go out to eat every day and have money to spare. They are high income earners and going out to eat is simply a business expense like anything else, or an affordable luxury, or an integral part of their jobs, like sales people who have to schmooze others.

Constantly eating out is one of the big “money leaks” many people fail to recognize.

No, I’m making this observation based on my own first hand experiences with blue collar workers like myself, people who earn their livings with their hands.

I have a younger half-sister who has struggled financially most of her life. She is one of those people who go out to eat at least once a day and more. For most of her life she had regular jobs, nothing that brought in huge money, and I noticed her constant going out to eat was one of the reasons why she never had money.

I know another contractor who eats out most every day not only for lunch, but for breakfast and dinner. It’s unreal. If it was not for the hefty stock portfolio his deceased parents left him which he regularly draws upon, he might be living under a bridge by now.

There is a bible verse from the Song of Solomon 2:15 reads, in part, “…it’s the little foxes that spoil the vines.” It can be taken several different ways and one of the ways I’ve interpreted it is in money matters: it’s the small things in our daily lives—like constantly going out to eat type things—that rob us of financial security.

In line with going out to eat is paying a daily visit to a Starbucks. What a waste of money this is for vastly overpriced products.

It’s the little foxes that spoil the vines.

I’m not saying we should not enjoy life—not at all. Going out to eat, enjoying a Starbucks, buying ice cream at Dairy Queen—there is nothing wrong with indulging in these luxuries if it is done in moderation. But when a young person is just starting out and they are living on their own with no one but themselves to rely on and have no access to inherited wealth or other such privileges, if they wish to get ahead they need to live and spend wisely.

When eating out becomes a regular habit, something you routinely do as part of your daily life, trust me: unless you possess a lot of money, you will never get ahead financially.

Beware of being scammed

I’ve long been interested in business, though in my retirement years, this interest is not as strong as when I was younger. One of the magazines I often read was “Entreprenuer Magazine” which, interestingly, still appears to exist as of today’s date (Nov. 24, 2022).

Because of this interest, the rise and fall of FTX—the cryptocurrency scam—has fascinated me. I recently watched this informative video and recommend it to anyone interested in educating themselves in this subject:

I’ve learned valuable lessons over the years when it comes to investing and one of them is: be careful what you invest in and make sure you are familiar with whatever company, business, or other field you wish to place your assets into.

For example, I would not invest one dollar into cryptocurrencies. Why? Several reasons: one, I have zero expertise, knowledge or experience in this new industry and two, the concept—though a promising one—sounds like a scam.

Why I believe cryptocurrencies are a scam is because of my understanding of currencies in general. Only governments of nations can issue “legal tender” currencies, and those official currencies are supposed to be backed up by the assets of whatever currency that government is producing.

What government is backing up, approving, guaranteeing, or issuing, say, Bitcoin? And simply because Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are being successfully exchanged does not insure they are legitimate.

Could I be wrong about crypto currencies? Certainly, and I’m probably am, but at this point in the game, I’m glad I did not jump on the crypto bandwagon.

“Who is rich? He who is content with his portion.”

And there is no doubt savvy investors in Bitcoin and other digital currencies are profiting handsomely, many becoming fabulously wealthy in the process. They get in on the ground floor, make their profits, and then get out before the inevitable crash. That takes skill, knowledge, and timing that I’ve never been able to utilize in this kind of investment arena which is why I lost so much money trading stocks.

Something else I’ve also learned about investing: we are attracted, like bugs to lightbulbs, by things new, technology orientated, and unfamiliar to us: crypto is a perfect example. The concept is so novel and exciting that people—many who are unsophisticated investors—are attracted to its obvious potential. And since most of us are prone to greed and “get rich quick” schemes, we become suckers for con-artists and charlatans—like Sam Bankman-Fried and his merry group of twenty-something con artists.

Crooks seem to grow out of thin air—they are everywhere. I no longer answer my phone and have not done so for years because of the incessant robocalls. It is is set to silent and calls coming in go immediately to my voice mail where I can screen them. I’ve become so cautious I no longer click on links from an email even if it appears to be from a legitimate company for fear I am being scammed into clicking on a phony link.

It’s tragic what has become of our society where criminals have such free reign to rob and deceive us out of our hard earned money. One of the best decisions I made was when I went through real estate school and learned the concept of “due diligence.” It is a concept that requires an individual interested in purchasing something to do the necessary required research and investigation before plopping down their hard earned money. “Buyer beware” is a closely related term.

Lastly, I believe a sound bit of investment advice is one that is as old as the hills: don’t put all your eggs in one basket. In the video above, at timestamp 10:20, it alleges that Tom Brady, the famous quarterback, invested his $650 million dollar fortune into FTX. To say this another way, if this is true, Brady just lost his entire fortune; a lifetime of hard work went down the drain in one day. One day. Along with a sizable chunk of his now ex-wife’s fortune.

Why would Brady do such a foolish thing? Again, I don’t know if this claim he placed his entire fortune into FTX is true, but let’s assume it is accurate. What possessed him to do this? And why his entire fortune? Wouldn’t prudence suggest investing your entire life’s fortune into one “company” be foolhardy and an unnecessary risk? Why not, instead of placing one’s entire fortune in any one single company, only putting, say, $300 million? Then, if it goes south, you still have $450 million left over, right?

This story about Brady is unbelievable and, quite frankly, stupid if it is indeed true. Why would someone risk 100% of their wealth on one investment, whether it be a certain stock, business venture, real estate deal, or an unproven crypto venture run by an unkempt twenty-something in a t-shirt and shorts? This insanity truly boggles the mind.

Finally, a quote from the “Ethics of the Fathers” which resonates with my soul and is full of wisdom:

“Who is rich? He who is content with his portion.” Some translations put it this way: “Who is rich? He who is satisfied (or happy) with his lot.”

Part of happiness is being grateful for what we have and being aware that discontent with our portion in life appears to be hardwired into our DNA; it is the wise individual who understands the grasping and the “always wanting more” dark sides of human nature—and who can tame this beast—who experience a great degree of happiness and contentment.

Life lessons from the humble plumb bob

I love tools of all kinds, but among my favorites are the simple, old-school types, like the plumb bob: it’s uncomplicated, of ancient origin, requires no batteries or need to send it to a repair shop, has no electronics prone to failure, and it sits on one of my crowded shelves, collecting dust like so many of my other tools, but ready in an instant when I need its valuable services.

The humble plumb bob bought about three decades or so ago now strung properly.

My current “RV improvement project” is the installation of a new mini split system. This project is challenging due to the complexity of the units themselves (indoor head unit and outdoor condenser), and the many tools and specialized knowledge required for installation.

I don’t consider myself a skilled craftsman but fit into the category of the “jack of all some trades, master of none” description. Though I have spent almost 40 years of my life as a contractor, built my own house and have done countless home improvement projects, I’m not what one might consider naturally gifted in the area of working with my hands: mine is an acquired “talent” and not an inherited one.

I’m a slow learner and it takes me a long time to figure things out. One of my favorite quotes that accurately sums up one of my other possible talents—perseverance—comes from the prodigious William Carey:

“If one should think it worth his while to write my life, I will give you a criterion by which you may judge of its correctness. If he gives me credit for being a plodder, he will describe me justly. Anything beyond this will be too much. I can plod. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything.”

This stubborn “stick with-it-ness” is a virtue I’m grateful to have been blessed with (inherited and not acquired) and has been instrumental in allowing me to taste the small amount of success I have been fortunate to achieve in my mostly unremarkable life.

Plumb bob next to its original packaging (which I still have).

Which brings me to the subject of this post: the humble plumb bob, a tool I purchased new, I believe, perhaps as long as 30 or 35 years ago, maybe longer.

This is not an instructional “how to” article on the proper use of this tool but rather on some interesting insights into my own way of thinking and personal growth because of the decades I’ve routinely misused it.

In short, it was not until today, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022, that I finally figured out the proper way to thread the all important string line through the head of the bob. Almost 35 years after purchasing and using it. I learned something new at the ripe old age of 62.

For all this time, I had been wrongly using the tool in an awkward, imprecise manner by not properly threading the string correctly through the top of the bob but through its sides. I’ve always suspected I was doing something wrong but never had the time to correctly figure out the right way to thread the string while I was in the process of using it on a project.

The wrong way I had been stringing this plumb bob for about 30-35 years or so.

This tool is not one I frequently use, maybe once in every ten years or so. If it was something I regularly used, like a tape measure, screwdriver, trowel, or backpack sprayer, I’m sure I would have taken the time to properly figure out how to string it.

But my mini split project is allowing me the opportunity of finally being able to take the needed time to figure this vexing problem out. Since I’m not working on someone else’s house, with all the pressures associated with completing the job in a timely and profitable fashion, and since I’m doing this project in my semi-retirement years, much of the old pressures I constantly faced are gone, leaving me more time to think and figure things out.

And one other important difference is this: the internet, without a doubt one of the greatest inventions in the history of civilization. When I purchased this plumb bob there was no internet. In fact, there were no cell phones that had internet connectivity; I could not pick up my iPhone while sleeping in late on my bed on a lazy Sunday morning (like I was) and google, “how to properly thread string on a plumb bob” (like I did) and get instant answers from various sources.

Before the age of immediate access to information by performing a google search, I would have had to call the company that made this particular tool. This would entail searching for the phone number and hoping they provided a “1-800” number to call so I would not be charged for the long distance charges (outrageous in those days). Or maybe call the store where I bought it from and ask them.

I could have asked a carpenter who regularly used such a tool, but carpentry wasn’t my specialty so I didn’t have a ready pool of friendly carpenters I could ask. And if I was on friendly terms with such a tradesman, would my pride have allowed me to humble myself and admit I didn’t know something so elementary as properly stringing a plumb bob? Probably not.

Could I call my dad? No; as I have noted before in my blog, my real father and I were never close, and asking him for anything was never on my radar (he also died when I was in my twenties). I cannot remember a moment in the years I lived with him where he showed me how to use something as elementary as a hammer. Thus, all my knowledge of tools and construction work were predominantly learned through reading books. And now with Youtube, I watch many different “how to” videos and gain much knowledge from them.

Though the videos I watched did not specifically address my particular plumb bob, they did provide me enough information and insight to view the situation in a new light; then, the lightbulb in my head went off—in a flash of understanding, I discovered the solution.

I got out of bed, grabbed the plumb bob, untied the string pushed through the sides of its head (but not properly through the hole in the top like it should have), and rethreaded it through the top hole (see the picture below) in the head using a piece of baling wire to force the string through the top hole. I then pulled the string through one of the side holes, tied a knot in it, pulled the string taught from the top, and viola! the 35 year old mystery was solved.

I admit I was thrilled by this. Now the plumb bob was functioning as it had been designed to and was no longer off balance like it had been for over three decades whenever I pulled it out to use it. Did it work before? Yes, but it was awkward and required I constantly made sure the knot in the string was in a place that was positioned exactly in the proper place to make it properly function. Now, this problem was a thing of the past.

Why am I taking the time to write this? Most people could care less about a plumb bob and will never use one; the subject does not interest them. But as so often happens in life, it’s the hidden meaning of things, the message below the surface of the visible reality, that teaches us life’s—and perhaps even the universe’s—profound lessons.

What I learned was a confirmation of something I have long known about myself: that I am not a fast learner and oftentimes, it takes years, even decades, before I figure some things out—like how to properly thread a plumb bob.

The hole in the top of the plumb bob where string is threaded through; I never used it until today.

The lessons from the plumb bob are not isolated to knowing and understanding myself but bleed also, I believe, to the experiences of others who struggle like me in certain areas: being hard-headed, dogmatic, and opinionated, believing they have all the right answers and have life all figured out and packaged into tidy little compartments. Their “black and white” viewpoint on certain things are much like mine were for most of my life (but in different ways), causing us to miss out on much which life has to offer.

The message of the plumb bob is like an onion, revealing layer upon layer that offers multiple views of wisdom. This morning, as I was marveling over finally figuring out how to correctly string my plumb bob, other life’s lessons were revealed as well—like how long it might take others close to me to finally wake up and learn how to properly string their own “plumb bobs of life.”

Like mine, so much of their lives are similar to this improperly stringed plumb bob: they still work but spin off balance, are awkward, and fail to operate the way they are intended. They may never come to the point in their lives until decades have passed before they realize, “Something is off balance in my life and I have to figure out where the problem lies.”

I tend to be a pessimist, looking at the glass as half empty instead of half full. Life has been brutal in countless ways, full of losses, broken relationships, and unforeseen setbacks. Yet, through these dark chapters of my troubled existence, there have always been bright spots and oases of sunshine and rest.

“Like mine, so much of their lives are similar to this improperly stringed plumb bob: they still work but spin off balance, are awkward, and fail to operate the way they are intended.”

I have learned my life has been an improperly stringed plumb bob: yes, it has worked and continues to do so, but it has been marked for too long with unbalance and wobble. Yet like this morning, there are moments when I’ve suddenly been blessed to wake up and have the opportunity to understand how to properly string a plumb bob.

Interestingly, the metaphor of the plumb bob is one of the many reasons I have backed off from my prior evangelical and fundamentalist life of faith. In this rigid and dogmatic view of the spiritual, there is no room for learning how to restring the plumb bob. For example, if a person does not accept “Jesus as their Lord and Savior and repent of their sins…,” walking in lock step to what certain church fathers and ancient creeds have deemed to be orthodox, they are dogmatically doomed to an eternity of everlasting torture in the fiery pits of hellfire with never a hope of getting out. In this perverse view of God’s love and justice, there is no room for learning the proper way to string a plumb bob, regardless of how many eternities one might have to rethink the error of their ways.

Contrary to the popular saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” we can learn new ways of looking at life and the many paradoxes it presents. I have learned even lifelong held religious beliefs, passed down from generation to generation, can be questioned and reasoned through to the point where someone might reject what they now believe to be untrue and harmful. Can anything be set in stone in such a vast universe? That question may remain undecided for the moment.

For builders and tradespeople who earn their living using tools—like plumb bobs—, it’s possible to use them in an inefficient manner that fails to utilize their full potential. I have many tools I’ve never used to their full capacity as far as what they can do because I’ve not taken the needed time to read up on all of the tasks they are able to perform.

Again, tools can mirror our own lives because most people fail to take the needed time to learn how to be better than what we are. One area of study I have long been interested in is philosophy. One of my first serious attempts to learn what philosophy was all about was a philosophy course I took at the University of AZ when I was a freshman when I was 18 or 19 years old.

Unfortunately, the things which my professor was teaching came into conflict with my nascent religious faith. At that point in my life I could not reconcile what I thought were two radically different world views; I soon dropped the course and continued my deep dive into Christianity. Interestingly, I have now returned to studying the very subject I once thought was harmful to my development as a man, regretting that I did not pursue my love of philosophy when I had the chance for it to help mold and shape my understanding of life and my place in it.

My total commitment to Christianity to the exclusion of all other modes of thinking and belief has led me to realize I had wrongly strung the “plumb bob” that represented that specific part of my life. Because of this, my life, in many ways, was unbalanced and wobbly, but I never realized just how out of sync with life it had become in certain respects.

How this all came about is an interesting story but not the time to discuss it at length in this post. My desire is to point out that if we spend almost an entire lifetime employing the “tools of life” in an incorrect fashion, the human condition is such that we can “restring the plumb bob” in the right fashion and move forward to better, more enlightened days.

Mary Spears – In Memorian

(Updated Oct. 27, 2022)

My older sister Mary died 49 years ago today; she was only 14 years old, a few weeks shy of her 15 birthday.

I loved Mary. She and I were very close and I have mourned her untimely passing for almost 50 years. What killed her was Lupus, a devastating disease back in those days, and which, because of her unique and severe case, has enabled other victims of Lupus to live healthier and fuller lives.

Mary Spears: October 5, 1958 – September 16, 1973.

Mary was one of the sweetest, kindest, and gentlest of people I have known. I never remember her in our short span of time together becoming angry. Her gentle, unassuming nature was wonderful.

It is not necessarily true that “time heals all wounds.” That wound in my soul from my best friend prematurely dying from a painfully horrific disease remains open; only when I see and hug her again will it forever close.

She is buried here in Tucson, AZ at “East Lawn Palms Mortuary and Cemetery.” I often visit her gravesite to honor her memory. Mary is the first person I hope to meet when I pass from this world and into the dimension she now lives in, a place, no doubt, filled with light, healing, and divine love.

Mary’s gravesite with our mom’s underneath.

For those familiar with the excellent “what3words” app, here is what I hope is the three word address of where her gravestone is located in this cemetery:

Here is an earlier post about my beautiful and precious sister.

Rest in peace, Mary.

Queen Elizabeth II: RIP

“Queen Elizabeth II, the UK’s longest-serving monarch, had died at Balmoral aged 96, after reigning for 70 years.” So wrote the BBC in their news story on this expected but sad event.

Like many people, I am fascinated and intrigued by the British Royal Family. Queen Elizabeth II illustrated, to me, some of the best this outdated monarchical system of government represented.

Queen Elizabeth II

She was the picture of elegance, grace, kindness, moral strength, femininity, and possessed an air of sophistication that was both serious and approachable. I admired her quiet, wise demeanor and the manner in which she handled herself in public.

One of her many admirable qualities that was attractive to me was her public persona, how she appeared on the world stage and in front of her own people. She carried herself as one would expect someone of her royal position: with a sober, noble bearing. Her even temperedness seemed to be a hallmark of her entire life as the Queen.

She represented to me a lifestyle and ancient heritage that unfortunately has long disappeared and perhaps was never realistic. Monarchies are fraught with abuses and excesses and those who sit on the royal throne are often some of the most selfish, power hungry and despicable of people: Queen Elizabeth was none of these but modeled everything good about it.

There is little argument that, among westerners, the British monarchy is the best known and is the best representation of this ancient governmental system. There is something alluring about a government that has a noble and wise king and queen sitting on their thrones dispensing justice, wisdom and inspiration to those they rule. Unfortunately, as noted above, history has proven that such systems seem to be black holes that attract the worst in people instead of the best. As the old saying goes, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Many of us yearn for the mythical dynasty of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table—or at least the great and noble parts of Camelot. It is, of course, a dream that can never be realized, but so appealing to think that we could be ruled by such a good, noble, wise and gracious king.

I have sometimes thought how different my life would have been if I had been born into a royal family and reared by a mom and dad that possessed the greatest attributes so important to royalty: wisdom, strength, kindness, morality, godliness, fairness, modesty, concern and care for the weak and downtrodden, justice, etc.

A Canadian conservative writer I admire, Jonathnon Van Maren, penned this eulogy of Queen Elizabeth II that I believe expresses the sentiments of many who are mourning her passing.

Queen Elizabeth II gave a glimpse of how such a storybook lifestyle might indeed be possible, and though she did not rule over a kingdom like Camelot, she certainly personified portions of such. May she rest in peace.

Two Videos on Parental Alienation

“Parental Alienation (PA)” and its sister pathology, “Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS)” is estimated to affect 19% of the population in the United States. This is a frightening number of people that should qualify as a mental health crisis in this country and be dealt with as such.

I have written extensively over the years on these twin forms of child abuse because I have lost all three of my daughters to these devastating pathologies. One of my daughters I have not seen in almost 20 years; tragically, all three want nothing to do with me and has been this way for almost two decades.

Below are two videos that I believe will be helpful for all those who have been affected by these two forms of child abuse and intimate partner violence. As with many Youtube videos, often times they will be removed due to some type of alleged copyright or community standard violations. If this occurs with the two links below, please do an internet search which hopefully will take you to an updated link where you will be able to view them.

“Erasing Family (2020) – Full Documentary- US Divorce Court System”

The second video found below is in Spanish with English subtitles. Filmed in Argentina, it’s impact on the population was so powerful that major changes were instigated in the Argentinian family court system for father’s rights. You can read about this and other interesting facts about the creation of these two films here.

“Erasing Dad (Borrando a Papa) Documentary”

Will Roe v. Wade be overturned?

I believe one of the most consequential events to happen in the history of the United States is the possible overturning of the controversial abortion ruling in 1973, Roe v. Wade.

Since around 1982, a significant portion of my life was dedicated to fighting the evils of abortion on demand. I wrote about this here. In my more reflective moments, I was certain that Roe v. Wade would never be overturned; it would always, in my mind, be the law of the land and we could never go back to the way things were before that tragic ruling.

When I learned of the unprecedented leak at the Supreme Court and that the majority ruling would be to overturn Roe v. Wade, I believed we were facing a moment in our nation’s history that would be remembered throughout the rest of our existence as one of those defining moments—on the same level as 9/11, Kennedy’s assassination, the landing on the moon, etc.

We are living through a profoundly historical moment if—indeed—Roe v. Wade is overturned when the official ruling comes out in June.

What will make this event so historical is not only the unprecedented leak itself, but the fact that the Supreme Court will have reversed itself on a such a contentious subject. This reversal, especially after almost 50 years of precedence, is nothing short of astonishing. Again, I never expected this to happen but believed it couldn’t happen.

Over the course of several sittings, I read through the leaked draft decision. There is no question the final draft will be different if only for the fact that the dissent will also be included (which this one does not contain), but this rough first draft packs enough information to reveal the depth of the issue that this country has faced in our history and how wrongly decided Roe v. Wade truly was.

In a nutshell, what is the significance of this possible reversal? Why has it been such a hotly contested issue for so many decades? I believe it is this: the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) removed from the people the ability to decide this issue for themselves on a state to state basis and forced abortion on demand to be accepted by millions upon millions of Americans who believed it was an evil that should not be tolerated in this country. Here is one relevant portion from the leaked draft, second paragraph from page one:

“For the first 185 years after the adoption of the Constitution, each State was permitted to address this issue in accordance with the views of its citizens. Then, in 1973, this Court decided Roe v. Wade, 410 U. S. 113…”

Then, from pages two and three:

“At the time of Roe, 30 States still prohibited abortion at all stages. In the years prior to that decision, about a third of the States had liberalized their laws, but Roe abruptly ended that political process. It imposed the same highly restrictive regime on the entire Nation, and it effectively struck down the abortion laws of every single State. As Justice Byron White aptly put it in his dissent, the decision represented the ‘exercise of raw judicial power…'”

Note the phrase the “exercise of raw judicial power.” In more vulgar language, this was a decision forced down the throats of all of those millions of Americans who were vehemently against abortion and instantly removed the issue from being decided on a state by state basis and ushered into society a so-called “right” that had not been agreed upon nor recognized by a majority of the citizens.

In short, this was a totalitarian “exercise of raw judicial power” wholly incompatible with our republican style of representative government of “by the people, for the people.”

Freedom minded Americans do not happily submit to being forced to do things by the government at judicial gunpoint and understandably reacted quite negatively at this power grab. The rejection of this heavy-handed decision made by nine lawyers wearing black judicial robes who made up the Court back then instigated a culture war that has never let up for one moment since that fateful day in 1973.

This, as I stated above, is the main reason for why this issue has been so contentious for so long. Certainly the fact that we are dealing with human life also comes into play, but this is secondary in my opinion. Abortion is not an issue that can be decided by nine lawyers but only by the people residing within each individual state. And this can only be decided by those people debating, discussing and then voting on such an issue by a process devoted to the free exchange of ideas that seek to convince others of the right or wrongness of each position. This is the essence of the democratic process.

Personally, I abhor abortion. Yes, I see where there are circumstances where it is necessary (for example, when the mother’s life is in imminent danger if the pregnancy continues), but if one or more states vote that the citizens of that state want abortion and it is decided by a majority of that state’s citizens, well, I would have to accept that even though I would not agree with their decision.

But in a democratic republic, the people decide such issues—not the courts. Roe v. Wade circumvented that process which resulted in both sides warring over it ever since.

If the Court overrules Roe v. Wade, this means the “raw judicial power grab” will cease and the people of each state will now decide what they want to have done in their communities.

Roe v. Wade was a constitutional disaster that should have never happened. My hope is the decision of the Court revealed by the leaked draft will become the law of the land and return this issue back to where it always belonged: in the hands of the people.

Do we know anything?

I had a girlfriend in high school, Michelle, that said to me, “Your problem is that you believe everyone should think the way you do.”

She wasn’t necessarily being mean or snotty when she said this, but making an observation of one of my many character flaws. Over 40 years later and often remembering her words, she proved to be an intuitive young lady.

Pride—the wrong kind—is one of the worst and most destructive of character traits, for both a nation and its individual members; it’s listed as “numero uno” among the list of the seven deadly sins. Throughout my life, I have pondered its negative effects on my own life and in the lives of others.

The opposite of pride is humility, and I’ve always desired this virtue in my life but realizing it is not one that is either easily or quickly obtained in this life. I believe we are born with the vice of pride in our inner beings and must learn to be humble. Certainly no one has to teach us to be proud and arrogant; being humble, on the other hand, does not come easy and only seems to come when we are faced with situations that prove to us our abysmal imperfections, character defects, weaknesses, and limitations.

Pride—the wrong kind—is one of the worst and most destructive of character traits.

Most have heard the phrase, “Ugly American.” It is a decidedly negative description of the behavior of Americans too often manifested when we are visitors to other countries and has often bothered me. To be fair, the citizens of other countries who have been blessed with unfathomable wealth also are guilty of the same behavior, but it hurts and embarrasses me to be guilty of this disgusting vice.

I’ve learned, though, that advancing age, with all of its setbacks, disappointments, failures, and failed dreams, can provide those of us who struggle with pride some desperately needed perspective.

One of the many eye-opening events in my life that brought this needed perspective came when I began to seriously become interested in cosmology and began contemplating the mind-numbing size of the Universe. Most of know the Universe is gigantic, but it was only when I seriously began to think and visualize how big the Universe truly is that a revolution began happening in my thinking.

But what tipped me “over the edge” as far as realizing how little mankind actually knows was the Hubble “deep field” and “ultra deep field” photographs. Learning about these two photographs and the back stories of how they came to be changed my life-long perspectives on the extent to what mankind actually knows. And when we truly understand these photographs and what they actually mean, one conclusion is unavoidable: we truly know nothing. And this shook my world.

Ultra Deep Field

I clearly remember the first time—not that long ago—when I watched a video that told the remarkable story of how that tiny speck in the night sky was chosen by one scientist for Hubble to focus on: he wanted to have Hubble focus on one of the darkest portions of the night sky that seemed to contain little, if any, galactic activity.

And the results changed our view of the Universe as well as disrupted my own viewpoints on faith. For as I looked at that blown up speck in the night sky and realized there were at least 10,000 galaxies contained within that tiny portion, it dawned on me that, no matter how much knowledge man has managed to accumulate throughout our existence on this planet, in comparison to all the other galaxies we could see or calculate being out there, we know nothing—absolutely nothing at all. Perhaps even less than nothing.

What did this mean, then, for the Bible? It meant that whatever knowledge or wisdom it contained, it seems to be—in general—relevant to only what has happened on our tiny insignificant planet floating around in the infinitesimally great expanse of the cosmos. Isolated only to Earth, what possible eternal truths could we count on that would apply to those other portions of the Universe? Probably very little, if anything at all. Our understanding of the Bible—and, in fact, all other holy books—is relevant only to this small isolated planet that is completely swallowed up by the vastness of the Universe.

Even if the Bible is 100% true—even if all of the other “holy books” together taught absolute truth—combined together they all add up to nothing as far as the information we have about God, ourselves, heaven, eternity, our souls, an afterlife, etc.—even less than nothing.

If we take all the sand grains on earth and pile them in a heap, a gigantic, towering mountain, Earth would maybe represent one single grain of sand as compared to all the other stars and planets in the known Universe. Current estimates of the amount of galaxies (not planets or stars) in the known Universe are anywhere between 100 billion and two trillion. And all of our knowledge, wisdom and learning adds up to nothing in comparison to all the knowledge, wisdom and learning of these other grains of sand.

This was a life changing revelation for me that reverberates even to this day. One of the things it did to my thinking is this: I really don’t know anything, and whatever I might happen to know, it amounts to nothing.

This humbled me, taking the wind out of my sails for my arrogant, life long beliefs that I had opinions that mattered. My opinions, even if they are true (and I cannot definitively state they are), are insignificant to the knowledge and wisdom that the Universe must hold.

Today (April 18, 2022), I watched the video posted above once again. Beginning at timestamp 2:42, the video shows an animation of traveling through this tiny portion of the galactic area shown in the Ultra Deep Field photograph. We slowly pass through vast spaces containing stars and galaxies. Each of those galaxies contain perhaps hundreds of billions—perhaps even trillions—of stars and planets. Just one of those galaxies we pass by would take hundreds of thousands of lifetimes and even more to explore if we had the capabilities to do so. Just one galaxy. And there could be two trillion of these galaxies out there, and possibly many more.

The mind is unable to comprehend this; it is impossible, beyond our ability. If we are unable to comprehend merely the size of the Universe, how much more incomprehensible can we understand all the knowledge and wisdom in that same Universe? Again, we simply cannot because it is impossible for us to do so.

What has this done for my thinking? At the very least, it has humbled me. It proves to me that I do not know anything. To believe I am able to authoritatively speak on any spiritual subject—or perhaps any subject, for that matter—is a foolish endeavor. I would be self-deluded in doing so. The best I could present myself to others on any subject would be as an infant still learning to crawl.

My learning of the incomprehensible Universe is humbling, showing I am wholly insignificant in the grand scheme of things. This awareness is causing me to hit the pause button, to reevaluate my life and belief system because I realize, in the final analysis, I simply don’t know anything.

My attitude on spiritual beliefs should never be a dogmatic assertion of “this is the way it is” or “in this book is the pure knowledge of God.” Rather, the best I can humbly say is “this might be so—maybe.”

Michelle was right. She loved me enough to tell me the truth about myself and presented that truth in a gentle—even humorous—way. So subtle was her rebuke that I do not believe at that moment she was chastising me; I was so dense and uncomprehending of the meaning behind her words.

“Know theyself.”