Most people here in Florida know how to swim. Actually, these days, most people know how to swim, period. Our parents may have loved the water, or imagined us kids falling in a pool and drowning. So, we took swimming lessons, and for most of us, it was great fun. Aside from the undeniable fun factor, let’s look at safety.. You actually have to fall in a body of water to drown. Yet, the thought of drowning is unpleasant enough for people to learn how to swim and teach their kids. Never go near deep water and you’ll be fine. It might not be easy, but you can avoid the risk altogether. Individuals with aqua-phobia are extremely unlikely to ever drown. The same can not be said of violence. It can happen anywhere, at any time. You can die of a knife wound or kick to the head faster than having your lungs filled with water. Why is it then that almost nobody, and especially the most vulnerable people never train to handle violence? The idea is as unpleasant as drowning. We wear our seat-belts, avoid bad foods, take vitamins, exercise.. Why not train in martial arts? Why not teach children simple moves to get away from someone trying to grab them?

Swimming is a lot like martial arts. You do it mainly for fun, especially with your family and friends. Not only is it good exercise, but you gain a skill that can save your life. Just like martial arts, you can’t learn it from a book, videos, or listening to other people. That can help, but ultimately, you have to jump in and do it. The only thing you need to practice either is a somewhat healthy body and some water, though only for drinking in martial arts.

Unlike martial arts though, if you have a bad swimming teacher, you’ll know fairly soon.. Imagine a discipline called “traditional swimming” where you learn to swim on the ground, or laying on your stomach on a chair. Your teacher is a “master traditional swimmer.” He has never been in the water, but that doesn’t matter, right? After years of traditional swimming, you should be able to cross a good size river, if you were to fall in.. Unfortunately, a lot of martial arts schools are like traditional swimming schools.. Just keep that in mind. You can read a lot about that on

A pond, swimming pool, the ocean can be very unforgiving of mistakes and lack of proper knowledge. Yet, they do not actively try to kill you. Some criminals are as cold as an Icelandic lake, and they will murder you without batting an eye. I don’t worry much about drowning or being murdered, mind you. I do however read the news. I could self-deceive myself until the cows came home, but there is no denying that there are people out there preying on others for a living, or wanting to satisfy some sadistic urge. You might say “I’ll just buy a gun,” or “I’ll just kick him in the balls.” That’s pure fantasy. For a gun or knife to be effective, it needs to be right there when you need it, and you must pull it out fast enough, and be efficient with it under stress, that means training. In many places, carrying a weapon is illegal. You need to turn yourself into one. I wish every time someone told me “I would just (insert kick-ass move here)…” I could have jumped them, taken them down and mimic crushing their head before their could move a finger. Then I would ask: “Why didn’t you just (insert kick-ass move here)?” Of course, that kind of argument, though efficient, is rather frowned upon.

If you already exercise, ask yourself, “What other benefits am I getting from this?” I mean, other than an improved health and looking better naked? If you swim, that’s easy, you can save yourself or someone else from drowning.. Otherwise, consider learning to defend yourself. You kill two birds with one stone, better health and acquiring a potentially life saving skill. Sure, you might get bruises and a few aches and pains. So what? If that bothers you, maybe knitting is more for you then, but watch for those needles, they can hurt..

I often wonder how seemingly intelligent people hold certain opinions that slap the face of logic. The fact is that we are to an extent the product of the groups we live or work in. The danger for anyone in a group, work or otherwise, is that ideas formed in those groups get bounced back and forth, and doing so, gather momentum, strength, whether they are right or not. Individuals in those groups stop questioning these ideas because they are accepted in the group. I am a libertarian, but I spend a lot of time with die-hard liberals, a few die-hard republicans, Christians and atheists. That keeps me in check when my thinking goes overboard, maybe I keep them in check too, sometimes. It also certainly sharpens my social skills, as far as not stepping on toes too hard goes. I do enjoy a good argument, but when emotions take over reason and logic, it can get ugly. That’s when I usually end the conversation, for then there is nothing for me to learn or teach. Exchanging ideas is great, forcing them on someone else, not so much.

I would suggest anyone in a group (which can be a college, family, church, office, etc.) to step outside of it on a regular basis, and “fraternize with the enemy.” Simply because group ideas will always be more extreme than necessary, if not outright wrong. That is probably how young muslim men end-up strapping themselves with explosives and blow themselves up. Nobody around them is there to keep them in check. Extreme ideas become more extreme, and what would have seemed crazy before now looks perfectly reasonable.. So, step out of your group, and go meet people who think differently than you do! Nobody around? Fine, read a book people around you totally disagree with..

Group interactions can become group brainwashing. Cults know this better than anyone. A cult member will be isolated from his/her family and friends and rather quickly accept the ideas of the group. We all want to belong, we are gregarious creatures. Don’t think it can’t happen to you.. The most intelligent people get trapped. When I hear the political opinions of students at New College in Sarasota for example (I call it the “People’s Republic of New College”), I can’t help but think of mass self brainwashing.. Not everyone there falls in, mind you. I know some very bright (smarter than me) students there who don’t conform. Unfortunately Socialism has taken hold of most colleges and universities. I won’t get started on the evils of Socialism here.. Just keep reading my blog.. It is interesting though to notice that the most extreme young liberals come from wealthy Republican parents..

I actually decided to write this post after suggesting my friends to read Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged.”:

I was also directing them to two great articles:

‘Atlas Shrugged’: From Fiction to Fact in 52 Years
Battling Obama by ‘Going Galt’

Most of them will probably make the same face they would have sucking on a bitter lime! However, consider part of the first article: “readers rated ‘Atlas’ as the second-most influential book in their lives, behind only the Bible.” I did read it many years ago, and it defined ideas I had for a long time, but never knew how to put together in a coherent form. For some people, it will be a turning point in their lives. Amazing how a book written in 1957 can be so timely, in light of the present economical situation.

But enough with politics. I just hate it when someone I know gets into a group and absorbs their ideas like a dry sponge thrown in a hot bath. Especially when those ideas are weird, extreme or even dangerous. There isn’t always someone close enough to shake you and say “snap out of it.” You have to check yourself. If a friend you’ve known for years gives you a weird look after a statement you made, ask yourself if you may have been influenced..

Here is how it happens: An acquaintance tells you all about this great business venture that is making him rich and will make you wealthy beyond your wildest dreams. All it takes is a few hours of work here and there and bingo, cash flows. They have a meeting soon at a nearby hotel. The product? Hum, he won’t tell you. Just show up, right? Humans will believe anything shrouded in mystery. The reason why he won’t tell you anything about the product is because professionals will, just a little, after they hook you in. What you would be actually doing will be explained at the very end of the meeting. Most of the speech delivered to you will be about you and your dreams.

I had a few of my friends fall for it, after I told them not to sign-up. The amazing thing is that they asked me my advice but did not like the answer and joined anyway. I even went to a meeting with a friend’s mother, pocket calculator in hand, showed her the numbers were bogus. She shelved out $600 that night for a “marketing kit.” Never made a penny out of it. I was propositioned a few times, smelled a rat, asked two questions, and sent them packing.

So, you are sitting among a hundred or so “investors” or “entrepreneurs.” Everyone is dressed for success. They have to look good to be worthy of the opportunity.. You unmothballed your suit, bought a new tie, and now you’re hoping this it it, because otherwise, you’re screwed. A man is introduced, walks on the stage. He looks like a CEO. Here comes the powerpoint presentation. You’re going to sell yachts! No, actually, that’s your yacht! Soon to be yacht.. Here comes a photo of your future house, a young woman in bikini laying by the pool. Again, it’s all about you. The method is failsafe, the product is going to inundate the market. What product? That’s for later.. Now, all you need to do is find other people to work under you, let’s say ten. In turn they each will find ten others, and so on, down to a few levels. The beauty of it is that you get a small percentage on each sale. Sounds familiar? It is. The scam has been around for decades.

You know someone who made money that way? Sure, some do, very few, and I bet they exaggerate the numbers. It’s possible, but unlikely. Here is why: When I was at that meeting with my friend’s mother, I asked them how many meetings they were planning and had in Sarasota. I don’t remember the number, but let’s say 15. We’ll assume 50 sign-ups per meeting. They find 5 others who in turn will find five, down maybe five levels. Do the math: 50x5x5x5x5x5x15 = 2,343,750 people. With ten people instead of five, the number reaches more than 75 million. Sarasota had a population of 54,349 in 2004 (U.S. Census). In how many cities do you think those meeting are held? Right.. If the scheme worked, the entire population of the world would be involved, including their pets, livestock and then some!

Most likely, if you sign-up and calculate your expenses and time spent, you may make a few cents an hour.. If you’re very good, maybe a few hundred. Very few make a few thousand. If you don’t mind losing your friends, it might be a way to make a living. Because if you are any good at it, you will piss-off a lot of people bugging them with your meeting invitations and products offers.

These companies operate on the fringe of the law. Most are illegal in Europe. They use brainwashing tactics usually reserved for cults. Some are borderline cults. I remember an ex-girlfriend of mine who fell for Quixtar (Amway). I tried to dissuade her, to no avail. She tried once to tell me that UPS had to buy hundreds of new trucks because of them. Are you kidding! She would get angry when I tried to give her my point of view. In the end, she didn’t have any more money than before and put a ton of miles on her car.

Hope is a powerful weapon against those who need it. I understand that it is very hard to resist an offer that sounds that good. When it is too good to be true however, it most likely is. Remember that. If you think you don’t have anything to lose, think about your time, your last few hundreds, and your friends and family. It’s not worth it. If anyone asks you to go to a business meeting, ask them what the product is. They don’t tell you, run! Ask them if you will be asked to find others to work under you. Yes.. Run! If you have a friend who falls for it, try to dissuade them, but don’t alienate them. If they persist, let it go. They’ll fall, lose money, and come back to reality, but they will still be your friend.

I hear too many people telling me how they found this new philosophy or spirituality that surely will make them happy. Usually it’s fairly complicated, involves Eastern customs and an old man with a beard wearing a bed sheet. I’m not knocking Eastern Philosophy. It just seems to me that anyone who has some ability with words and fancies guru outfits will always find eager listeners. Being a coffee shop junkie, I hear it all. New-age mumbo-jumbo mixes with Buddhism and quotes from various self-help books. It’s like a soup for the soul in which you can’t recognize the original vegetables. Sometimes they even throw in Jesus, like adding brown beef chunks to the broth. Unlike real vegetable soup however, it certainly doesn’t make sense.

Trying to be happy is missing the point. Being happy is mostly a personal decision. Anyone who has a roof over their head, has enough food, lives in a relatively safe place and is not clinically depressed can make that choice.

It’s no wonder people are confused and stressed with the number of stimuli assaulting us every day. Take your garden variety supermarket; flashy colors everywhere, lights, music, promotions, coupons, aisles of products jumping at us from all sides. Television shows us fictitious lives of beautiful people with all their toys. The average shot length for movies in the U.S. (ASL) Went from around fifteen seconds in the fifties to 2.5 seconds in 2007. Society pressures us to adopt everyone else’s standards, to perform as well and look as good as the guy or woman next door. So many expectations breed depression.

The first thing to do in your life is simplify it. Don’t try to buy things because others do and you think it will make you look better. It’s not a competition. If you try to attain a social status you don’t have, it will stress you to no end and you’ll never be happy, even with a Lamborghini in your garage. Rich people commit suicide too, hum, I wonder why.. Stop watching the damn TV every day! You will find more interesting things to do, more on that later.. Simplify your finances, your work, anything you can find that doesn’t have to be as complicated as it is. You will be amazed at how many hours a week you can save, not to mention your stress level going way down.

The second one is to do things. I don’t mean sit on the couch and play video games. Build things for yourself, anything. I work on my laptop computer, programming. At the end of the day, when I close it, there is nothing for me to look at. The satisfaction from doing my work disappears at the same time my computer memory empties, when I pull the plug. We need to build things, and look at them. For your brain to be happy, it needs to move your body, that’s what it’s for! Otherwise, we might as well be a tree, no brains needed there.. Exercise to make your brain produce the chemicals it needs. You’ll lose weight and look better too, it’s a winner. Before television, many more people knew how to read and play music. There is no satisfaction be be gleaned from watching a screen hours on end.

The third one is to go places. We need to see different things. No, not the mall! I mean landscapes. There has to be something green within driving distance of where you live, you know, trees, grass, that sort of things.. Not the local football field, real wilderness. I am thinking about buying a kayak to explore the West Coast of Florida. I used to fly around during flight training to log hours. A fellow student would come back from, let’s say West Palm Beach, telling us there was a good looking girl behind the front desk at the FBO, and five Cessnas would take-off from Sarasota in a hurry. It was great. It’s not that we were all so obsessed, but just going somewhere else was exiting and uplifting. Just walking sometimes does the trick. You can also end-up pretty far on a bicycle when you forget what time it is.

The fourth one is to see other people. We are gregarious creatures by nature. I often go to Sarasota News and Books to sit outside with a cup of tea and watch people passing by. Soon or later, someone I know comes along and we end-up a full table, in an animated discussion. Last time I did that, I found myself playing Boggle with a bunch of friends! I might appear distant to some, but I like people. Why would I go to coffee shops all the time when I could make tea, coffee and chocolates at home? It’s human nature. When I hear “I don’t like people,” I usually don’t believe it. Self deception, that’s what it is. Hermits are few and far between, I’ve never met a real one. the best part of this tendency is that you can do things and go places with other people!

I am no expert in psychology. I just know that I enjoy life, always have, always will. I don’t need spirituality, religion, gurus and whatnots. If you do and it works for you, that’s fine by me. I just wanted to say that life is incredible and beautiful, and just looking around us and remembering it it all it takes sometimes to bring forth a smile. If you are never happy, go see a doctor, seriously, they can help, to a point. In the end, it’s always up to you. Have a great day, I am!

Has to be, otherwise, how do you explain this:

SARASOTA FL, Dec 23: The Sarasota Police Department responded to a bank robbery alarm at the Suntrust Bank located at 3577 Fruitville Road on Tuesday. A lone perpetrator had entered the bank and produced a note demanding money. The subject fled on foot and is still at large.

A note! In light of the recent economical downfall, bank robbery might become more popular, especially if all it takes is a note.. Am I the only one here to find this a bit odd? I mean, if I was a teller and someone just handed me a piece of paper asking for money, I’d ask “Where is your gun?” Don’t have one? Sorry buddy, but my heavy duty stapler would be flying at your head before you can say “no dye-pack.”

Same thing two weeks ago.. An old semi-regular at a local coffee shop here in Sarasota, named Lewis, was arrested for robbing a SunTrust bank on US41. I heard he had a BB gun, but didn’t pull it out. Now, had you seen Lewis, you would know that he is pretty old. You could probably just push him over, he’d fall and break his hip (sorry Lewis, I hope your cellmates don’t read my blog). A BB gun can hardly qualify as a weapon.. If you used it like a hammer maybe.. There was a time when most anyone would have recognized a BB gun from a real one, but today, it’s politically incorrect to know about guns. Oh well, I guess paper cuts can get infected.

Bank policies are not there to prevent theft, but to protect themselves against their own employees. A lawsuit from a teller who got a black eye from trying to stop a robber could cost the bank more money than the loot. Sometimes those policies border on the ridicule. Wachovia for instance has a no-gun policy. I wonder if it applies to undercover cops. Robbers of course will leave their guns in their car when they see the sign.. Another liability issue, I am sure. You may argue that if one can rob a bank with a note, they might not bring a gun. I am not sure it is a valid argument. We still get bloody robberies. Why don’t tellers have guns? That would solve the problem really fast.

I would be interested to hear from bank employees who are familiar with these procedures. It seems to me that our society promotes being a victim. Criminal life has never been easier. When do we start to say “No”?