Category Archives: Zen Conservatism

How to Achieve

When a family’s children are small, the family has such unity of purpose. Mom, Dad, and all the kids climb into the mini-van or the SUV and head to the store. From there, they visit her parents. Then stop at McDonald’s on the way home.  If one of the older kids is involved in an organized program, the whole family attends.

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At bath time, the younger ones are bathed in batch.  Everyone eats together. Bed time comes for all of the kids at once, although older ones might get to read a while before turning out the light.

Young families have unity of purpose.

Then the kids get older.  Activities overlap, so the family must divide to accomplish them all. Soon, neither Mom nor Dad can stay and watch Trish’s volleyball game, because other kids need to be shuttled from event to event.

Before you know it, Trish is catching rides with the older kids who have their own cars. In a blink, the kids’ afterschool jobs prevent them from eating dinner as a family. Now, even Grandpa’s 70th birthday becomes a hassle to schedule.  And, yes, life is so complex the anniversary of a man’s birth has to be scheduled around other activities.

This is like any new organization, whether it’s a business startup or a grassroots movement.  At first, there’s such excitement about the next event or milestone or release date that everyone focuses on that.  Then teams get larger, and we divide our attentions.  Some focus on the next milestone, while others engage in longer term planning. Before long, we have not one but three or four immediate milestones, and we’ve divided the labor among specialists.

At this point, we no longer feel the excitement of the startup.  We feel like we’re in a big corporation with titles and departments.  And we notice that we’re missing a lot of targets and struggling for ideas.  Worst, there’s personality conflict and turf battles.  Everything is hard work, and nothing feels like an achievement.  Everything feels like a pain in the ass.

The way to combat this situation is three-fold:

Know Your Intended Outcome:  Have a single purpose around which everyone rallies, and make sure the whole organization understands why you exist.  For example, the first Tea Parties in February 2009 had perfect unity of purpose: Repeal the Pork or Retire.  That message was for Congress.  The pork was TARP, Stimuli I and II, the massive Budget Plus bill passed to redistribute wealth from us to Obama’s largest campaign donors.  That’s why this whole thing came about: government spending and borrowing for things that we never gave government permission to do.

Eliminate the Unnecessary:  Many activities should have been temporary but became permanent.  Kill all of those.  Weekly status meeting that came about because Project Y was behind schedule?  Kill it when Project Y ships and fix the reason it was late.  (Hint, meetings make projects later.) Is one project two generations behind because resources move to the other projects? Kill the feeder project. No one’s interested.  Any activity or project that does not directly address the Intended Outcome needs to stop immediately.

Do One Thing at a TimeThe human brain cannot multitask. Give it up. Don’t ask others to multitask unless you’d ask them to be in two places at once.  Once you’ve eliminated the unnecessary and established a clear, constant reminder of your intended outcome, you should have only one important task before you. Do it.  Then do the next.  Then one after that.  Trying to do two or more things at once will result in two or more crappy pieces of work.

If you feel that you’re busier than ever but nothing’s getting done, chances are you that you’ve taken on too much, lost sight of your intended outcome, and divided your attention among too many things.  Stop.  Write down that intention, write down a list of everything that’s in flight, then cross out every activity except the one that’s most important to the intended outcome.  You make a new list tomorrow.

For more information on achieving your goals, read my latest book, Zen Conservatism.

2 Paths to Focus

target I had a small revelation yesterday: there are two paths to focus.

One path requires constant vigilance against distraction.  This path also demands great awareness of many things, knowledge, and outlandish tenacity.  This is the path we recognize as heroic.

The other path gets less notice, less acclaim. Those how follow this other path to focus don’t seem to try hard. These are the “naturals.” Things seem to come easy for them.

But the second path requires a lot of work, too. 

The first path focus makes your eye (or eyes) hurt.  You strain to place all of your concentration onto one tiny speck. You squint and squeeze your eyeball. That speck could be a planet billions of miles away or it could be a subatomic particle.  Both require massive, focused concentration. The person achieves this concentration earns praise as a hero and hard worker.

The second path to focus requires learning to eliminate everything but the target. Instead of mastering concentration, you master release and surrender.  You let go of everything that’s not the object of your study or the target of your arrow. You think, see, and understand less and less until, at last, there is nothing in your universe except you and the target.

Then you release the arrow. It has no choice but to strike the target, because nothing else exists. 

Following the second path to focus will earn less praise for hard work and genius because it looks easy. But when the paths cross, those on the second path will triumph every time.

Come to Kansas City This Weekend

The Cardinals are out of town.  The day before Mother’s Day is always boring.  (You don’t want to go into a Mother’s Day Brunch hangin’ like Saddam Hussein, right?) So spend Friday evening and/or Saturday with Dana Loesch, Bill Hennessy, and hundreds of grassroots conservative activists at;

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It’s not too late to register and arrive, and everything happens at the Embassy Suites at KC International Airport:

Kansas City Summit

May 7-8
Embassy Suites KC – Int. Airport
7640 NW Tiffany Springs Parkway
Kansas City, MO 64153

Dana will be a headliner.  I’ll be talking about Zen Conservatism and Liberty Evangelism.  The full schedule and registration is available right here.

See you in KC.

How to Focus for Better Living

I once thought that focus meant you never got distracted. I was wrong.

A person with a powerful focusing ability gets as distracted as the next guy. The difference is that the Focus Master has learned to recognize distraction and gently guide his thoughts or actions back to the intended task at hand.

That simple skill is rare and remarkably powerful. Pay attention to every word of this two-step process:

1. Recognize that your mind has wandered, and

2. Gently let go of the distraction and return to your intended thought or action

Practice this skill once a day for twenty-one days, and you will gain a tactical advantage over ninety-nine percent of the population.

Here are some practical ways to practice:

At the computer:

1. In a fairly quiet place with your computer, go to http://www.online-stopwatch.com/ and select the countdown timer.

2. Set the timer to three minutes for the first week, and increase by 2 minutes each of the following two weeks.

3. Before you start the time, think of the word that best describes what you need most. Choose a single word, like “freedom” or “perseverance.”

4. During each session, try to feel what it would be like to have what you’re asking for. Don’t think about it or describe it: feel it.

5. Start the time, and close your eyes, focusing on the feeling of your word.

6. As your mind wanders, recognize the wandering. Acknowledge it. Let it go. Gently guide your feelings and thoughts back to the word and the feelings associated with achieving that word.

7. Repeat step 6 until the timer sounds.

8. Open your eyes, silence the timer, and write yourself a short note about the experience.

Variations:

1. During breakfast, try focusing exclusively on every aspect of the food you’re eating. Enjoy the crap out of every bite. As other thoughts intrude, let them go and gently return your thoughts and feelings to the food that fuels your body and mind.

2. While driving, turn off the radio and your cell phone. Concentrate on the act of driving, the sound of the car, the activities of other drivers. Focus on the variety of sensations and driving styles you witness. If you start to get angry or distracted with thoughts of work or home, acknowledge the distraction and guide your mind back to the rich world of driving.

You can probably come up with your own ideas for variations. In any event, practice for three, then five, then seven minutes every day for twenty-one days. You’ll become a master of focus. You’ll make decisions faster and more effectively. You’ll find that you can accomplish more work in less time. And you’ll feel far less stress in everything you do.

Focased Conservatism

January 28, 2009, could go down as the day conservatives regained their focus.

What the FOCA?:  Some enterprising pro-lifers desiring limited government launched the “What the FOCA?” website.  The site kicks some of the 1973-style slogans from the Right to Life movement, updating themes and memes for 2009.  A great idea, long overdue.  Visit often and donate generously if fighting rampant abortion is one of your action focuses.

A (Republican) House United:  Every member of the Republican House Caucus voted against Obama’s Crap Sandwich.  The bill passed, of course, with all but 11 Democrats voting Aye.  But the real story is that the consequences of this pile of Number Two land squarely on The One and his Girl Friday, Nancy “Blend the Babies” Pelosi.  Remember this in 2010.

In 1981, many, many Democrats crossed the aisle and voted for Reagan’s tax cuts.  They knew that the strategy would work.  Most were old enough to remember that Jack Kennedy did the same thing with success in 1963.  Later, when Democrats tried to distance themselves from that vote, Reagan gently reminded the voters that Dick Gephardt and his colleagues rose in support of Reagan’s first two budgets.  They may share in their success, but they cannot say they opposed the bills.

When the economy tanks after a 3-4 month break (as I’ve been predicting since October), the GOP can say, “we told you so.” 

What’s More Conservative Than an Onion?: The answer is, of course, The Endive.  This ingenious and hilarious new satire site equals The Onion in quality and surpasses in originality.  Sid Bridge, editor-in-chief, exemplifies Zen Conservatism by focusing on a single goal:  pillory liberals with laughter.  Bookmark The Endive and email your friends.  This will become THE satire site of the Obama administration.

CNN Ends Pretense of Objectivity:  CNN is selling a sickening, sycophant T-Shirt with prominent banner ad.  I honestly cannot believe that they have stooped to this.  I defy anyone to argue that a wholly partisan press benefits a free country.  I’m thinking of blocking cnn.com on my home firewall to prevent my kids from reading this crap.  Anyone else up for it?

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It Never Was There

I’m like a lot of people I know.  We may be very different from you and those you know.  But we’re familiar to ourselves and to each other.

I’m one of those people who tried to get There. 

There isn’t a place; it’s a status.  It’s a moment.  It’s hearing that someone told someone else that you have “one of those” and they should see it.  Maybe it’s the big TV or the cool cappuccino machine.  Maybe it’s a boat or an SUV that costs more than the average American home and is only 3 square feet smaller.

Part of trying to get there is being there now.  You have to play the part if you want to win the part.  You can’t live like a pauper if you have dreams of the Gold Coast, can you? 

So we lived like there was no tomorrow.  We bought the stuff that would impress everyone.  We made it to all the big parties.  We dressed the part.  I had a pair of Kenneth Cole shoes in 2000 a full half-season before the hit the stores.  I was there.

I never felt There, though.  Even more strangely, I never felt here.  I felt . . . scared.  Not only did I not have everything I needed to be There, I didn’t know how I was going to pay for where I was.  Better get more stuff before somebody notices.

I hear people talk disparagingly about the greed and excess and conspicuous consumption of the 80s and of the 90s and of the 00s.  There was a backlash in the early 1990s against the “Reagan eighties.”  It lasted only until the stock market took off on the helium of the tech bubble.  By 1996, we were all buying tickets to There, again. 

In the early 2000s, we decried the excesses of the 90s, though, this time, a president’s name wasn’t associated with the excess.  This time it was the “dot com nineties.” 

Then this.  Credit markets crashed.  Stock markets crashed.  Housing markets crashed.  Job markets.  Name a market, and it crashed.   Being There didn’t help us this time . . . or the last time . . . or the time before that.  Because it never was There.

Now we have a lot of stuff to get rid of.  It’s not as shiny and cool as it was when we bought it.  Even if we bought two month ago.  Everybody has one, anyway, and we only bought it to set ourselves apart.   But we still get a bill for it every month.  We will for a long time, unless we do something about that.

I’m going to try.  I’m going put every penny I can into eliminating every debt I have.  I’ll the utilities, insurance, taxes, car repairs.  You can have the rest, along with the crap it bought. 

Contrary to the lies you hear from Hank Paulson and Barack Obama, the world doesn’t run on credit.  At least it shouldn’t.  Microsoft has no debt, nor does Walgreens.  Circuit City does.  So does Chrysler.  Ditto GM.  And Ford.

Maybe we’d all be better off if Congress had never voted for that panicked bailout in September.  But I’m not taking that bailout.

There is a There somewhere, but it’s inside of us.  It was the original bailout and the only one anyone will ever need.  It was delivered on a cross 2,000 years ago. 

The Evil of Debt

The debtor is a slave to his lender.  

Americans hold hundreds of billions of dollars in credit card debt alone.  To this add automobiles, student loans, mortgages, medical, and myriad personal loans and you arrive at the staggering figure of $2.55 trillion with a ‘t’.  

This massive debt–encouraged and backed by the US Government–makes us miserable.  Seriously.  Are you happy?  

If the debtor is slave to his lender, then the US Government is slave to China and Japan.  Want to know why we ignored Tienenmen?  Because our master told us to. 

The US Government is on the hook for another $10 trillion, and that number is increasing at a rate of $1 trillion per month.  Unless someone stops the madness, we’ll be, as a nation, $22 trillion in debt by this time next year–more if the ecnomy worsens.

Good Government Doesn’t Run on Debt

I am not a balanced budget purist.  I understand that wars and other emergencies sometimes require deficit spending. But the current wars don’t cost $22 trillion.  Not even $1 trillion, unless you use New York Times math.  So what’s the excuse?

Americans Are Spoiled Brats

We want what we want, and we want it now.  We’ve borrowed our way into slavery.  When we hit our credit limits, swindler politicians offer to extend even more credit.  So we become slaves to Congress, to the Department of Health and Human Services, to the EPA, and to every other government department and agency.  

It’s humiliating, disgusting, and embarrassing.  

What’s the Answer?

Stop borrowing.  That means you, me, the government, your husband or wife, kids, everyone.  Let the big banks fail; they are our pushers, our needle providers, our crack houses.  But they only offered the easy credit with painless terms.  They only offered a free t-shirt in exchange for our servitude.  They only held out the pen.  We took it into our eager little hands and signed over our lives.  

Knock it OFF!  

Every time you vote for a politician who “brings home the bacon,” you’re selling yourself to yet another master.  Last fall, the masters got together and decided to yank on the chains that bind you to them.  It hurt, didn’t it.  It hurts still.  And it will hurt worse over the coming years. 

The government has absolutely no plan to pay off its loans.  Have you noticed?  It has no intention of paying off.  Know why?  Because there’s no difference between goverment debt and personal debt.  You will pay the $22 trillion AND the $2.55 trillion because YOU SIGNED FOR THE LOAN!

Three Simple Steps

1.  Don’t borrow another dime.  Not for a car, not for college, not for a house, not for a television, gasoline, groceries, clothes, vacations.  Stop borrowing.  If you need help, read Dave Ramsey’s books
The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness
or
Financial Peace Revisited

2.  Have at least $1,000 in savings for true emergencies

3.  Pay off all of your debts as fast as you can, one at a time, beginning with the smallest balance and ending with the largest balance.

3.b.  Elect politicians who will put up 100 percent of their personal assets (house, cars, savings) if they ever vote for a deficit budget outside of war.

eXtreme Programming and Good Government

Kent Beck, the genius who discovered eXtreme Programming, from whence sprang all so-called Agile methodologies, can lead us to good government. 

Beck, a senior consultant in the 1990s, noticed that all big software development programs began and ended the same way in the days of waterfall. 

Massive Requirements:  Every project began with lots of highly paid people sitting in endless series of meetings aiming to document everything that a system must and should do and how.  The system didn’t exist yet, but this did not stop the binder builders.  The requirements were usually very wrong.  The stuff they “required” had no market, wouldn’t work, or contained self-contradicting statements, like “all numbers shall be represented with letters.” 

Massive Design:  Since the requirement rarely made any sense,  a most senior programmer who worked for the software vendor would attempt to draw pictures of what he thought the requirements meant.  Since the people who did the requiring had no idea what the engineer’s symbolism stood for, the engineers could convince the customers that their drawing were right.  This guaranteed a system the customer didn’t want, but it bought a lot of time.

Massive Hidden Development:  Development always began late because the first two steps always took twice as long as anyone thought they would.  But that’s okay—development will take twice as long as predicted, too. During this period, the customer might forget that the project was launched since the programmers and their work remained carefully hidden from view for months–sometimes years.

Massive Testing:  This is everyone’s favorite part.  After eight months of programming pictures that don’t mean anything to anyone into software system, the people who drew the pictures convince testers—who are usually very green programmers or wannabe programmers—that the software works exactly the way the customer wanted it to.  The testers then stare at their computers for four months, report bugs for everything they don’t personally like, and, finally, put their stamp of quality on the product.

User Acceptance Testing:  This is where the customer first sees the product—2 years after signing a contract.  During this phase, the client manager who agreed to let this particular company develop this particular system works closely with the vendor’s senior developers to craft a convincing argument.  This argument must demonstrate to executives in the client company that the manager didn’t throw away $2 million on a system that will never work.  That task is more daunging  because the software system was supposed to keep track of weather balloons everywhere in the world but it actually predicts the number of Powerball Lottery tickets that will sell given an estimated jackpot. 

Crunch Time:  After realizing that he’ll never convince his bosses that the vendor delivered is what the cliented wanted, the customer gathers two or three of his key people to “work out some issues” with the code.  These two or three people work along side four or five of the vendor’s best programmers and a tester.  This mixed team is co-located, and it works 18 hours a day for 2 months.  Instead of written requirements and esoteric drawings, the customer people tell the vendor people exactly what they want and how it should work.  The vendor people code it and demonstrate it as the customers look on. When it’s right, customer says, “Done.  Next.”  They work together on one or two things at a time until the system is sufficient for their needs.

Post-Mortem:  This is where Kent Beck (and everyone else who’s ever been part of a waterfall software development project) realize that 80 percent of the code that the customer accepted was written during the 2 month “crunch,” that 80 percent of the original requirements weren’t needed, and that 80 percent of the drawings were meaningless.  Smart people, like Beck, say, “You know what?  Next time we have 2 years to build software, lets skip right to the crunch time.”  Stupid people, like 90 percent of the organizations in the world, say, “Next time, we’ll spend more time gathering requirements and drawing pictures and testing so that we get it right.”

Lesson for Government

Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Washington, et al, discovered the United States of America’s government the same way Beck discovered intelligent software development:  they observed what worked and did that.  They threw out all the stuff that didn’t work.  They accepted the fact that the smartest men in the country couldn’t run the country as well as the people could run themselves.  They admitted that the people would tell the government when they needed it to act, and that absent such a signal, the government must do nothing.

When Henry Paulson and Barack Obama tell us what government must do, they are like the requirement gatherers telling the programmers what the system must do.  They are probably wrong.  And if they’re right, they’re still wrong.  The people are smarter than their leaders. 

Focused Blogging for Conservatives

Once upon a time, when blogging was fresh and new, conservative blogs dominated the top of Technorati’s most popular lists.  Michelle Malkin, Powerline, and InstaPundit routinely led Talking Points and Kos.  But we’ve fallen.   Big time.

Yesterday, Michelle was still the #1 conservative blog–at 39 overall.  Huffington Post is #1, Kos is #8.

Why?

Reason 1:  Focus

Or lack thereof.  The rising stars of the right aren’t necessarily political, but scientific.  Tom Nelson’s blog digests all of the day’s (even hour’s) top stories involving some idiotic global warming (aka "environmental," aka "sustainability," aka "climate change") news.  Anthony Watts is a seasoned meteorologist who provides deep dives into global warming news and science.

By focusing on a single issue, these blogs deliver one-stop shopping for conservatives in search of AGW news. Their blog rolls are similarly focused, allowing readers who want more to jump to another blog that emphasizes climate.

Most conservative blogs, by contrast, ramble.  I don’t mean that posts ramble, but the content is all over the map.  Take Hennessy’s View for example.  I’ll hit AGW, economics, and the 10th Amendment all in the same day.  When a reader visits Hennessy’s View, he has no idea what he’ll get.

Reason 2:  Proliferation

According to the Battleground Poll, 60 percent of voting-age Americans describe themselves as Somewhat or Very conservative.  That means we have a pool of up to 126 million people to win over as regular readers.  Of that 126 million, according to Forrester, 25 percent are inactives when it comes to the internets, leaving 94.5 million for us to fight over.

While the liberals have 4 or 5 top blogs and lots of micro blogs, conservatives have a similar number of top blogs but many, many blogs just below the top.  These high quality blogs cannibalize readership from the top 5.  In other words, there are (my calculations) almost twice as many conservative blog readers as liberal readers, but our focus is diffused across many sites while the liberals concentrate attention on a handful of blogs.

Quantifying attitudes across 100 blogs is difficult.  Quantifying top 100 is easy.  So Technorati counts the top 100 which makes it look like liberal readership dwarfs conservative.

Should We Care?

Yes.  The combination of lower rankings and scattered focus hurts the impact and influence of conservative blogs.  "Most Read Blog in America" carries credibility with people we hope to influence.  If you don’t believe that, talk to a marketer.  Similarly, people who can afford to shop in specialty shops do so because these shops are precise.   A women’s lingerie shop carries . . . you guessed it.  No surprises or unfulfilled needs when a woman goes into Victoria’s Secret. 

How to Fix This

I don’t have a solution for the whole right side of the web.  But I will share a strategy I’m going to employ for the next 4 weeks.

  1. Fewer Posts:  Instead of blogging every stupid idea that pops into my head, I’m going to focus on one quality entry per day.  I’ll start in the morning.  If I have time to write and revise, I will do it before leaving for work.  If not, like today, I’ll revise and publish when I get home.  This will allow me to post cleaner copy.
  2. Limited Subjects:  I will leave my categories for historical posts, but I am going to pick no more than 3 topics going forward:  Global Warming, Limited Government, and Zen Conservatism. 
  3. Emphasis will be Zen Conservatism, which will be a focus on the positives of conservatism and the essential tenets thereof:  life, liberty, the pursuit hapiness, and private property.

One additional idea for the conservative blogosphere in general:  narrow your focus.  It isn’t easy, but it’s necessary. 

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