The world is in a depressingly precarious condition right now – one crisis away from a global meltdown.
ECONOMY HAVE YOU WORRIED?
The US is borrowing $435 million dollars – per hour. How long can that insanity go on? 94 million American workers don’t have jobs. How long can that be sustained?
Been to a work meeting where everyone seemed on edge – arguing and backstabbing each other over precious resources, strategy or just plain surviving? If you have a job, you probably have.
PROBLEMS TOO BIG – TOO HIGH?
Our times are piled high with difficulty and uncertainty. Stress and anxiety. Barbaric ISIS terrorists who revel in finding new, evil, disgustingly satanic ways of killing people. Sometimes problems seem too big to get your arms around and too high to climb. It’s easy to get down. Easier to get angry at the world for all the injustices done to you. And others.
TOO HARD TO GRASP?
But maybe, just maybe, if you watch the video below, you might come away with …
Last year I had the great fun of being able to create, develop and host theExpert Access Radio program. It’s a one-hour show that features live, in-depth interviews with business leaders and bestselling authors from around the world. They share their ideas, insights and inspirational stories to help people in their life of business or their business of life. The show is broadcast live on 55KRC.com.
BOOK ‘EM STEVO
I also happen to book the guests, which is no small feat considering my limited skills with the English language. We had some of the most amazing storytellers as guests—famous in print and on the Hollywood big screen. If you study the art of writing, the art of story, or just love to read books or watch movies, below are some fascinating interviews that share storytelling lessons built upon hundreds of years of experience … and have resulted in billions of dollars in sales.
THE ERNEST HEMINGWAY OF OUR TIMES
1. Steven Pressfield is the Ernest Hemingway of our times. He’s been a screenwriter and has sold 34 screenplays. He’s also the international bestselling author of The Legend of Bagger Vance, The Profession,The War of Art, Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae, Killing Rommel, The Afghan Campaign and The Virtues of War, among many others. Steven was the second ever guest on the Expert Access Radio program. We discussed his classic The War of Art, The Legend of Bagger Vance and much more.
2. Pen Densham has written, produced, consulted and directed movies and television shows. His eclectic string of projects include Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Backdraft, MollFlanders, Rocky II, Blown Away, Footloose as well as the TNT movie Houdini and the successful reboots of the classic TV series The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. He’s worked with and learned from people like Morgan Freeman, Jeff Bridges, Robin Wright, Bill Murray, Kevin Costner and Jodie Foster.
4. Michael Uslan is the executive producer of the Batman franchise of motion pictures and the author of The Boy Who Loved Batman. We talked about his new book, which is his true story of how a comic-obsessed kid conquered Hollywood to bring the Dark Knight to the silver screen. It’s an inspirational story of passion, persistence and perseverance that has also generated over $2.6 billion in ticket receipts. And yes … we also talked about The Dark Knight Rises.
5. Robert McKee is the most widely known and respected screenwriting lecturer in the world today. His STORY Seminar has been taught to over 50,000 screenwriters, filmmakers, TV writers, novelists, industry executives, actors, producers, directors and playwrights. Teaching is easy. Results are hard. Robert McKee’s STORY and the stories delivered by his students have garnered;
The young man was a sophomore in college. It was summertime. But was he out working or looking for a job? No. He was reclined on the bed eating Reese Cups. His father approached.
A Friendly Father and Son Talk
“What are you doing? You should be out looking for a job. When I was your age, we worked our way through college with summer jobs. Get out and get a job in seven days… or else.”
The “or else” was not specified but was uttered with a vehement voice full of dark consequences.
Five days later the father walked back into his son’s room on a bright, warm, summer day—a perfect day to be outside performing manual labor and getting paid for it; but his son was asleep, yes asleep. The father began the ignition sequence that rivaled a space-shuttle launch, but then… something caught his eye from across the room.
To his astonishment, he saw a big stack of bills—greenbacks, bucks, real money. Not minimum-wage kind of money. The father, suspecting some drug-dealing or criminal skullduggery, reached down and levitated the young man off of his bed in one fell swoop. A near-death experience was impending for the young man.
“What?” squealed the son.
The father held up the stack of bills. “Where did this money come from?”
“Oh, that. I sold a character.”
“You told me I had to work. I created a gaming character with some superhero special skills for an online game. That’s my cut after my broker took his 10 percent. It’s $4,000.”
“How long did that take?”
Then it sunk in. His boy was an entrepreneur; forced to be one because he abhorred physical work and low wages. He had created and developed computer characters and sold them. Online, imaginary characters with superhero skills for an imaginary world in which his friends immersed themselves. And, he made more in one week than many people make in a month.
“Ok. I guess that’s acceptable. You can work at home.”
“Thanks, and Dad, you know when you said that when you were young you could work your way through college working during the summer? Well, I did the math. If I could make $36,000 in two months during the summer, why would I want to go to college?”
The yearly tuition for the university that he was attending was $36,000. The young man went on by saying,
“And, I wouldn’t have to take out student loans. You know Jimmy, our neighbor who graduated two years ago with a law degree? He told me he has $75,000 in student loans and can’t find a decent job. He’s delivering pizzas now.”
I know this story because that father was me. The young man is my son. But that story begged the question, why does college cost so much now?
In 1975, the College Entrance Examination Board estimated the average total cost of a four-year public college at $2,679 a year ($11,852 in 2014 dollars). The average total cost of a private college: $4,391 ($19, 420 in 2014 dollars). Fast forward to the 2012-2013 school year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average first-year, on-campus tuition for a public and an in-state public school was $21,700, and for a four-year private school was $43,000. That takes the price of a four-year degree to between $85,000 and $215,000 in tuition alone, without room, board and incidentals.
What is the purpose of higher education? Is it to prepare people for jobs? Prepare them to be critical thinkers? Or, prepare them to be better citizens and students of the world?
From my perspective, it’s to prepare the next generation to move humanity forward; to improve the world. To do that, you have to give intellectual, social and moral instruction to the student, which includes learning how to think critically and developing relevant job skills for today’s employment opportunities. But it’s much more than that. It’s also preserving and protecting current knowledge while creating new knowledge. To quote MIT’s Shigeru Miyagawa,
“New knowledge to share and bring to bear against the big problems of the world.”
Losing Focus Costs a Lot
Loss of mission focus is one of the main reasons why college costs so much. According to the 2014 American Association of University Professors Report, Losing Focus, from 1978 to 2014, administration positions rose by 369 percent while, during the same period, full-time tenure and tenure-track positions increased by just 23 percent.
Administrators don’t teach. A core mission focus for any higher-education organization is teaching.
In fairness to higher-education institutions, a big part of this increase in administrative personnel is driven by government regulations. For example, the special report Compliance at Hartwick College found that it was regulated by 28 federal agencies, 15 state agencies, four local governments and seven accrediting agencies. They identified 247 compliance items that are requested by 36 different entities. This not only requires but also demands, additional personnel and resources.
According to the Hartwick study, the annual cost of all compliances for the College, a small liberal arts school in upstate New York with only 1,500 undergraduates, totaled $297,000, and that’s a small school.
Higher Education Recreation Arms Race
Much of this increase, however, is self-inflicted. How? Former Labor Secretary, Robert Reich, commenting on why colleges cost so much, in the US News Today article “Why Does College Cost so Much?” stated:
Part of the problem stems from schools spending money on unnecessary campus amenities to attract students—building student unions and athletic facilities that “resemble country clubs.”
Could Reich be right? A cursory look on many American campuses will reveal perks like rock-climbing centers, lazy river rides, outdoor pools with massive video screens, free movie theaters, on-campus steakhouses, ice cream parlors, massage centers, even water parks, just to mention a few of the latest perks. Did you get that? Water parks?
According to NIRSA, the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association, 92 schools reported over 1.7 billion in new recreational capital projects in 2013. How does that help educate the next generation to move humanity forward? Or prepare them for a job or career? It doesn’t. However, it does get the student used to unrealistic spectacular amenities and lifestyles that are subsidized by student-loan debt, which is painless until they leave school.
In what college are athletics and recreation a core mission? Higher-education leaders, in the guise of branding and marketing efforts, say they need these amenities and perks to compete with other institutions to attract and retain the best and brightest. A few institutions can successfully pull this off, but many can’t. This dilutes mission focus and escalates costs. Worse? It causes the very heartbeat of our future (the young students) to take on unconscionable amounts of debt to get a degree from these institutions; debt that will shackle and enslave them for years to come. Some for a lifetime.
Have Costs Really Risen that Much?
A small-business friend of mine, suffering from rapidly rising costs to insure his employees, disagreed with me on the cost of higher education.
Costs haven’t really risen that much over the years compared to other industries. For example, medical-care costs have increased outrageously in comparison to higher-education costs in the same timeframe. I know. I live it every day.
A 1,122 Percent Increase
That perception is out there. Costs have risen, but not that much in comparison to other industries, especially medical-care costs.
That perception is wrong. According to the National Center for Education Statistics,
The price of college tuition (indexed) and fees have exploded by more than 1,122 percent since 1978.
The cost of medical care rose less than 600 percent in that same timeframe.
The cost of an undergraduate degree is 12 times higher than it was in 1980.
Costs have increased dramatically. It’s inarguable. But it’s also inarguable that the successful future of not only America but humanity itself is built on the foundation of education. A college education is costly, but it also changes your life forever. Whether you’re a doctor, an engineer, a scientist, a police officer or a business owner, education moves you forward through life—economically, socially and (hopefully) morally.
Access to a college education depends on affordability for the majority of Americans. But with costs so high, how do you pay for college? Student-loan debt—a lot of it.
That’s why out of 71 percent of all students graduating in 2013, 1.3 million carried approximately $33,000 in debt. Student-loan debt (as of 2014) exceeds $1.2 trillion. It has more than tripled since 2004, is more than all of the U.S. credit-card debt combined and is the highest form of consumer debt second only to mortgages. This debt ends up being long-term, and on average, it takes:
20 years to pay off undergraduate-degree loans and
23 years to pay off graduate-degree loans
The Demons of Debt
During the writing of the book ““Margins and Missions… Not Moonshots: Pathways to Better U.S. Higher Education,“ I spoke with many recent college graduates. Almost all (except students from wealthy families) were shackled with out-size, long-term student debt. Many had monthly payments of over $1200. That’s equivalent to the payment of a nice three-bedroom house in the Midwest. Many were not working in their desired field or making the salary they expected because of the recent economic maelstrom and recession. But that debt is still there. Those payments, though they can be deferred, do not go away. They stifle, they suffocate, and they metastasize.
When the baby-boomers got out of college, they had very little student-loan debt. They went to work, moved out from their parents’ home, rented apartments, bought cars, started families and purchased houses. That consumption helped fuel the growth of the U.S. economy.
Student-loan debt seriously curtails new and recent graduates from doing the same. The rate of home ownership is 36 percent less among those currently repaying student debt, according to the One Wisconsin Institute, and their data suggest that student-loan debt reduces new-vehicle spending in the U.S. by $6.4 billion yearly. Student debt also diverts funds away from retirement, new-business startups, and other consumer purchases
People with serious student-loan debt also struggle emotionally and socially. Here are a couple of comments from people I spoke with:
I met the girl of my dreams. What’s she going to think when she learns I have $100,000 in student loans? That’s a long-term noose around my neck. Will she dump me? I would if I were her.
I’m 35 years old, and over half of my monthly pay goes to student-loan debt. I’m never going to be able to afford a house or a car.
Student-loan debt has driven people to contemplate and even commit suicide. In C. Cryn Johansen’s article, The Ones We Lost: The Student Loan Debt Suicides, she chronicles several heartbreaking student-loan-debt-inspired suicides. People heavily indebted with no jobs or low-paying jobs who see no light at the end of the tunnel. They see no way ever to work their way out of debt. It crushes them.
A Stark Reality – the Dark Demons of Debt
The American future depends on pursuing the American dream. That American dream is fueled by and built on education—especially higher education. But access to higher education depends on affordability. College is not affordable for the average American family. It costs too much. The only way to gain access for most is student-loan debt. If student loans weren’t available, over 70 percent of Americans would not be able to attend college. Access would be limited to only the very wealthy and the elite few that earned scholarships and grants enough to pay for it.
The extreme amount of current student-loan debt shackles and enslaves people for decades. Instead of pursuing the American dream, these student-loan debt holders become economic slaves with their future potential being sucked out by the dark demons of debt. Their consumption power—the ability to buy houses and cars, start businesses and other consumer purchases—cannot fuel future economic growth for America because a great deal of that money goes directly back to the banks.
These dark demons of debt are the Achilles heel of a growing, thriving American economy.
I’m writing this as a parent. A parent concerned for this and future generations. When I see a truck barreling down the road and getting ready to run me over, I’m savvy enough to get out of the way. The student-loan truck loaded with demons of debt and dire consequences is barreling down the road at all of us.
For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.
– H. L. Mencken
The answer is simple; getting to the answer is the problem.
It’s a Little Stickier Than That
These issues—accessibility, affordability, and debt—are a complicated web of intricately linked issues that have to be addressed with a fierce, focused, multi-pronged attack, much like cancer or the Ebola virus. First you isolate and contain, then treat, ameliorate and finally eradicate … as much as possible.
During the writing of this book, I had the opportunity to speak to many higher-education and business leaders. Some of the best and brightest. Many pointed to possible solutions to the student-loan and college-affordability problem. Here are some solutions that seem to have immediate and impactful potential.
Debt: Loan Forgiveness
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program is intended to encourage people to enter and work full time in public-service jobs. People in the program may qualify for “forgiveness of the remaining balance of their Direct Loans after they have made 120 qualifying payments on those loans while employed full time by certain public-service employers.”
But why only public-service employees? Who pays for that forgiveness? The taxpayers and private enterprise of course. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. The government is supposed to be of the people, by the people and for the people, not of the people, by the people and for the government people. This program should apply to all people in student-loan debt programs. If you are employed and make 120 qualifying payments on your Direct Loans, the remainder of the balance should be forgiven. I suspect that taking this action would also substantially change student-loan debt issuance.
Debt: Loan Refinancing
Current student-loan financing terms are all over the place. In many instances, student loans cannot be refinanced, and people are stuck with high-interest rates. This is unconscionable. We must do everything we can to help people who are shackled by these high rates and high payments. It’s a drag on the economy, and it affects everyone—except the banks.
Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has an idea to address this issue. Her bill, S. 897, wants the Federal Reserve System to give student-loan borrowers the equivalent to the interest rates at which the federal government provides loans to banks through the discount window operated by the Federal Reserve System. That rate currently (2014) is less than one percent (0.75%). This would make a drastic difference to cash flow for student-debt loan holders.
Debt: Radical Loan Forgiveness
Another option is a radical reset. Wipe out all student-loan balances and start from scratch. The government bailed out the banks from collapse in 2008, so why can’t they do it for the student-loan victims? It’s radical no doubt, and it needs study. But, think about it—what do you think would be the impact of freeing up people with draconian student-loan payments? They would start purchasing houses, cars, other products and assets and even start new businesses.
Is this a good idea? Not sure. But can you see the possibilities? Maybe even a variation of this radical approach by forgiving portions of the debt for some types of purchases. For example, a 2013 housing-market survey by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) found that nearly half of all surveyed cited student-loan debt as “a huge obstacle to home ownership.” One Wall Street firm recently proposed that a large portion of someone’s student-loan debt could be forgiven if the person purchased a house. That would change the debt into a productive form of debt instead of a destructive drag on the economy. Surely there are some smart, innovative financial thinkers out there who can solve this issue.
Debtor’s Prison or Bankruptcy?
Under the current federal law, federal and/or private student loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. Banks love this. They say it keeps interest rates low. But for some people, it traps them in lifelong debt with no chance to ever dig their way out.
It’s the modern-day equivalent of a debtor’s prison.
Senator Tom Harkin, Chairman of the Senate panel on education, proposed H.R. 3892 in the 113th Congress (2013-2014), which removes educational loans from the list of debts that are non-dischargeable in bankruptcy. This would also bring sanity back into the loan process. Loans would be looked at closer if the banks knew that there was a risk of them not being paid back.
That is common sense.
Cost: Tuition Free
Germany now offers free tuition to all students—national and international. Why? Mainly because they think it is socially discriminatory to charge tuition. Dorothee Stapelfeldt, a Hamburg senator, said that tuition fees were “unjust” and that “they discourage young people who do not have a traditional academic family background from taking up study. It is a core task of politics to ensure that young women and men can study with a high-quality standard free of charge.”
This, of course, seems desirable but almost too good to be true.
However, there is a significant difference between German and American universities. German universities don’t have all of the perks, amenities, and recreational options that some American institutions do—some might say that “…you have to work in school to get a degree, not lounge around in water parks watching movies.”
Germany isn’t the only country, though. Finland, France, Sweden, Norway, Slovenia, and Brazil offer free or almost free tuition for students—even Americans.
MIT’s OpenCourseWare and Intellectual Philanthropy
I’m an advocate of MIT’s OpenCourseWare and its mission of Intellectual Philanthropy. OCW has power, resources, and presence to make a real difference in the world.
OCW publishes virtually all MIT course content and makes it widely available (mostly free) to the world as a permanent MIT activity that they call “Intellectual Philanthropy.”
At this writing, MIT OCW, which is one of the most widely used educational resources on the Web, has:
2206 courses online
602 MIT faculty contributing
Over two-million visitors per month
10.3 million monthly page views
Over 200-million visitors since inception.
Over the past ten years, the program has generated some dramatic usage numbers, including:
43.5 million iTunes lecture video downloads
48.6 million YouTube lecture video views
18.5 million downloads of course-content .zip files.
A voluntary effort of the MIT faculty, OCW is one of the largest intellectual philanthropy efforts ever by a higher-education institution. The OCW site includes materials from five Nobel Prize winners and 44 MacVicar Fellows—professors who are recognized by the Institute for their outstanding contributions to MIT undergraduate education.
The ability to access MIT courses is an amazing learning resource. The only downside is that enrollees don’t get credit for it… yet. Maybe someday. But, if you need to stay up with the latest and greatest in your industry—or ahead of it—this is the place to start, and you will incur no student-loan debt.
Continuing and never-ending learning is now the norm for our world. MIT OCW is the very first place that I check when I want to track down and learn “knowledge to bring to bear against the big problems of the world.”
The $10,000 Degree
The academic paper, “$1 Trillion and Rising: A Plan for a $10K Degree” by Anya Kamenetz, focuses on reducing the costs of a degree with a six-step plan to get to a quality $10,000 college degree. The steps include:
Reduce non-teaching personnel and restructuring the use of teaching personnel.
End the “perk wars” (already discussed in this chapter).
Focus on graduation, not enrollment. Focusing on graduation completely changes the cost equation.
Dramatically increase blended learning with the use of MOOCs, but also integrate these technologies to not only increase productivity but also to free up faculty to provide intensive, one-to-one teaching and mentoring.
Streamline offerings and charging $10K for BAs in the top 10-12 fields of study. Eighty percent of undergraduates choose from approximately a dozen fields of study, yet a top-tier public university offers around 250 fields of study.
Rethink the college architecture into smaller units. The paper suggests a framework of cohort colleges, adult online universities, flagship campuses and micro/popup schools.
While some of these suggestions may be controversial and radical, some are changes that are long overdue and would reap immediate results.
Having the great opportunity to perform, compile and edit many of the interviews in this book, some other ideas with great potential have surfaced. A few are listed below.
New Sources of Revenue—Universities need to find and free up new revenue streams instead of relying on tuition increases. Simplifying operational and institutional complexity issues alone could save hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars. Here’s one example. Colleges and universities invest $92 billion in research and IP and only generate a 1 percent return. Surely we can do better.
Costs—A former president of Ohio State University once stated:
I readily admit it, I didn’t think a lot about costs. I do not think we have given significant thought to the impact of college costs on families.
An Entrepreneurial Mindset—We need to embrace an entrepreneurial mindset that’s focused on better serving students and fulfilling the core institutional mission. If an institution is run with an entrepreneurial mindset, there will be plenty of focus put on costs. Colleges and universities cannot deliver on their stated missions without margins, and there can be no margins without accountability and a business mindset.
Act Now—The time to act is now if we want to save the future of the U.S. higher education system. We need to help universities find and free up new revenue streams and resources, reduce support and administrative costs and streamline their complex organizations. Also, we need to embrace an entrepreneurial mindset that’s focused on better serving students and fulfilling the core institutional mission.
We can fix this. We must fix this. Our future depends on it.
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. – Edmund Burke
I know a beautiful young lady, of heart and soul, named Amy Matney. She’s a part of our family. She’s not my sister, but could be. Amy treated my young teenage stepdaughter, Isabella Ehret Kayser (below), like her own daughter – in a time of darkness, confusion, death and chaos – and in that moment, she shined.
When the worse that could ever happen to a child did (Isabella’s father passed away), Amy was there. She stood strong and reached out to all – even though she had no responsibility whatsoever to do so.
Isabella Ehret Kayser and Amy Matney
And because of that one tragic and sorrowful moment in time, though not related by blood, Amy became a part of our family – and always will be. And me, having a history with good and bad stepmothers (read “The Greatest Words You’ve Never Heard”), her response to our little girl’s tragedy makes Amy as close to an Angel on earth, to me, as could be.
NOW… THE EVIL BACKSTORY
But this particular Amy has a past. She grew up without a mother from a very young age. Any idea why? Did her mom die in childbirth? No. Auto accident? No. Cancer? No. Another type of accident? No.
Worse. Much worse. It’s what nightmares are made of. Except this nightmare is real and seemingly unending.
It was a demonic, almost Satanic, act of violence that took Amy’s mother away from her. People that live in Southern Ohio will remember this story. But this story is a story of all places, not just southern Ohio. A story that is timely, timeless – and horrific. A story that needs an end. And an end, if it ever happens – would be a happy ending. But Amy’s story is not.
STOP THIS INSANITY
Amy’s mother, Judy, was brutally murdered in 1987 by Ted Sinks (her husband at the time), a psychopathic killer (by any definition, clinical or otherwise) and a controlling, abusive, woman-beating animal. After he snuffed God’s spirit out of Amy’s mother, he put her in a plastic drum. Then he had a person that reported to him at the Dayton Daily News, in Ohio, help haul this drum up and bury it under freshly poured concrete in a section of the building that was undergoing renovation. A place, but by the grace of God, she probably never would have been discovered. Amy’s mother’s body stayed there for quite some time before being uncovered.
But this is no place for me to talk about that. This animal, this evil, mother-murdering scum, is up for parole right now – and must be stopped. I’ll let Amy tell you why….
“After serving nearly 30 years for killing his wife,Ted Sink’s stepdaughter, Amy Matney, wants him to remain in prison until he dies.
Sinks, 76, an ex-Dayton Daily News maintenance supervisor, has a fourth chance at parole in July when an institutional hearing is held to see if his case moves forward to the full Ohio Parole Board. An Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction panel will decide whether or not to recommend Sinks’ release.
“I think it’s important that the parole board understand the brutality of the murder,” Judy Sinks’ daughter Amy Matney said Monday after a victims’ conference she attended with her uncles at Michael’s House in Fairborn. “Our goal is for him not to be released and, it doesn’t really matter, his age at this point, or how long he’s been in there. Our goal is to simply keep him behind bars.”
Sinks was convicted in 1989 of killing his wife at home and then encasing her body in concrete on the seventh floor of the Dayton Daily News’ downtown building. Workers used sledgehammers to crack open a concrete pedestal for a water purifying unit to uncover Judy Sinks’ body. Sinks had placed his wife’s body in a plastic barrel and had a subordinate, who did not know the contents, help him move it up elevators and stairs to the top of the building at Fourth and Ludlow streets.
“My mother was a beautiful, gentle, soft-spoken, loving (woman),” Matney said. “She was a stay-at-home mom and she raised us well with great work ethic and was just a beautiful lady.” Amy Matney, of Englewood, urged people to recognize the signs of domestic violence and to report it to the Artemis Center at (937) 222-SAFE. “This particular case with my mother was classic domestic violence,” she said. “Probably the last two years of my mother’s life, I didn’t see her very often. He was very controlling and (she had) several injuries before the actual murder. Probably the control and isolation are the themes that really are red flags for domestic violence.”
Judy Sinks’ brothers — Larry, Dave, Leonard and Terry Harmon — urged anyone in support of Sinks’ continued incarceration to write to Victim Witness Division Director Sandra Hunt at 41 N. Perry St, Dayton OH 45422 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Daidone said it’s important for victims’ families to stay involved after defendants are sentenced.
“You have a voice. Use it,” he said. “Let the parole board know that you don’t want that defendant released.”
Amy said the victim conferences are comforting and provide an avenue to let feelings be known, even if it stirs up painful memories.
“I think it’s bittersweet,” she said. “It gives me the opportunity to talk about my mom. I don’t get the opportunity to do that very often. It’s important that he stays in there. He murdered my mother and he deserves to stay behind bars.”
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
A brutal, murdering psychopath is up for parole. Eligible to be free. To breathe fresh air again. To walk the streets seeking fresh prey again. To murder another mother and leave a daughter or son to grow up alone.
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good PEOPLE to do nothing. – Edmund Burke.
Please, I ask all friends (and even enemies) to write to Victim Witness Division Director Sandra Hunt at 41 N. Perry St, Dayton OH 45422 or email her at email@example.com to stop this impending travesty. To stop another preventable murder by a psychopath that has no respect or empathy for human life. Never again should this murdering beast see the sun uncovered by bars, or to breathe the air unfettered by chains.
Never again is now. Never again should murdering psychopaths be set loose on our streets to wreak havoc, misery and evil on the innocents of our society.
TODAY … #NEVERAGAINISNOW – PLEASE STEP UP
Write to Victim Witness Division Director Sandra Hunt at 41 N. Perry St, Dayton OH 45422 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Stop the release of this mother-murdering monster, Ted Sinks.
“One thing I know for sure; without writers, we in the entertainment business are aimless wanderers looking for a place to be. My thanks to Pen for this inspirational book.” – Morgan Freeman
As a director, I cannot achieve my goals without the help of creative and courageous writers. Pen’s book is unique in that it addresses the entire landscape of movie writing as a career, and most especially encourages artists who write from the heart and strive for originality.” – Ron Howard
While doing my research on Pen and his book, I was amazed. Amazed that his life story hasn’t been made into a movie.
Maybe Father Doesn’t Know Best?
When Pen was very young, around five years of age, he got his first role in the movies—riding an alligator. His dad filmed him. He suspects his mother was not in attendance. At age fifteen, Pen quit high school. He spent his early years doing everything he could possibly do to conjure himself a career in film and television. And, in an industry so full of rejection, so littered with broken dreams, he made it.
Pen Densham has written, produced, consulted and directed movies and television shows. His eclectic string of projects include Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Backdraft, MollFlanders, Rocky II, Blown Away, Footloose as well as the TNT movie Houdini and the successful reboots of the classic TV series The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. He’s worked with and learned from people like Morgan Freeman, Jeff Bridges, Robin Wright, Bill Murray, Kevin Costner and Jodie Foster.
This “B” Is Still Big Even Among Q’s
The films and television series Pen Densham and his partner have produced have grossed over $1 billion. I suspect the “B” should be capitalized in Billion. If it shouldn’t, it ought to be. Even with the new monetary policy of quantitative easing (Q2, Q3, QinfinityPlus2, or whatever we’re on now) of the money supply, that’s still a heap of money.
Just One Thing
And of all thing things that Pen did to create a successful Hollywood film career, he credits just one thing for his long track record of success. Just one key factor that we will get to at the end of the interview. (You really didn’t think I was going to spill the beans that quickly did you?)
STEVE KAYSER: What a life story you have. You dropped out of school at fifteen, you traveled a path that was filled with hurdles and rejections. You not only survived, but you thrived. It’s a wonderful story. Sounds like a movie. Anybody ever going to make it?
PEN DENSHAM: I don’t think so, I think I’m sort of still living it. One of the things I’m most content about is not making myself exceptional. I think as an artist, what I’m most content about is that I did really have a rough time, but it doesn’t mean that it makes it impossible to succeed. I’d hate it if anything you’d speak about me would make me seem more exceptional than other people.
STEVE’S THOUGHT BUBBLE:
I’d like to be “not exceptional” like Pen. Does that mean I’m exceptional? Nah, impossible. You see how great writers and storytellers work? They use words that confuse your own thought bubbles.
PEN DENSHAM: I think anyone with a passion, whether business or art, if you really care about something and it’s not knocked out of you, it helps you to keep going forward.
I’m not all that special.
ANOTHER STEVE THOUGHT BUBBLE:
I’d like to be “not special” like Pen. But if I’m “not special,” that must mean I’m special. That’s not true either. See how crafty that is? Penned again!
PEN DENSHAM: I’m scared a lot, I fail sometimes. But in our business, you fail more than you succeed—it’s kind of like the gold rush. You’re out there trying to find the next great nugget, and as long as you don’t quit, sometimes you do find it.
STEVE KAYSER: Riding the Alligator, the title of your new book, is a wonderful metaphor. The grappling, the wrestling with the creative and critical side of writing and the business side of pitching and story-selling. But it’s not just a metaphor is it? You did ride an alligator, a seven-foot-long gator when you were a little kid. Isn’t that true?
PEN DENSHAM: Yes. I was with my parents when I was very young, three-to-five years old. They were making short films in England. Going into the theater was like watching magicians. Watching my father as kind of a sorcerer who put these magic images on the screen, and they did put me on an alligator for a short film about people who kept weird pets. I don’t think my mother was there that day, but it was unnerving for me. This woman had an alligator and a crocodile. She had the crocodile in a large tank with glass sides to it. I can remember her standing in between me and the crocodile; I remember it to this day. She was admonishing me not to go toward the tank. The alligator she didn’t seem to care so much about. But that experience, I jokingly say, was my first job in show business.
STEVE KAYSER: What is Riding the Alligator, all about? (You can download a free chapter of “Riding the Alligator” – HERE.)
The Rules Are Simple … There Are No Rules
PEN DENSHAM: I tried to create a book that would not give rules about how to be creative, because I think the most powerful thing is that creativity comes out of you naturally. That’s something Hollywood doesn’t necessarily teach or help you with.
A lot of books are great at articulating the mechanisms for laying out a page or for plotting a structure, but the magic comes from letting something come out of you that’s never existed before.
There shouldn’t be rules against it.
That’s why I say in my book to ignore anything that I say that goes against your creative process. If I can encourage people to take the risk of putting ideas down and overcoming the fear and doubt, good things will happen.
STEVE KAYSER: Trust your gut. Go with your heart.
PEN DENSHAM: Yes.
STEVE KAYSER: I love your movie, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. In fact, Friar Tuck might be my favorite character of all time. He had such a grasp of the divine. Worldly and otherwise.
This is grain… which any fool can eat. But for which the Lord intended, a more divine means of consumption. Let us give praise to our maker, and glory to His bounty, by learning about….. beer. – Friar Tuck
What a wonderful story on the screen. But getting it to the screen was a story as well. A complex one, full of fear and doubt.
PEN DENSHAM: Yes. What happened at that time, I had just had the privilege of watching my wife give birth to my son via an emergency Cesarean. It caused me to think, “Where are the people that actually protect people as opposed to killing people?” It made me want to make a movie about Robin Hood, and the idea came to me to put a Muslim and a Christian side by side where they both collaborate against a greater dark force.
Best Stupid Idea Ever Heard
I pitched it at three different studios—Disney, TriStar and another one—and they all told me it was
“The stupidest idea they’ve ever heard.”
One of our assistants who now runs the SyFy Channel said, “That’s a really good idea; why don’t you just start?” It was his little touch of inspiration that made me sit down and see what would come out of me. As I uncritically let these ideas flow, my partner John Watson was reading the pages as they came out.
There’s this weird thing when you create; you frequently feel like this stuff is stupid. You have a little critic that sits above my back and gnaws at everything I do. He can’t judge; he just seems to be there telling you it’s a waste of time. People are going to laugh. And sometimes it gets so big that you think lineups of people are going to point and laugh at you as you walk down the street. So having other people look at it is what helped me get this one-hundred-page story out. My partner was looking at it, we collaborated in turning it into a screenplay and having been told that no studio wanted it, we were doing it purely on the gut instinct that I should not give up.
Don’t Give Up
That’s when we heard that Fox was going to green-light another Robin Hood. My partner said, “Well let’s not bother finishing this,” and I said, “I gave up on one idea I really loved and I hated myself for it. Let’s just at least finish it.” That’s how close we came to not making Robin Hood.
STEVE KAYSER: And it went on to be …
PEN DENSHAM: It was one of the largest-grossing Warner Brothers movies of all time at that point. ( It’s grossed over $500 million since being released.)
STEVE KAYSER: My wife told me once that Moll Flanders was her fourth-favorite movie of all time, right after the three screenplays that I’ve never sold and turned into movies ( was that a blatant plug or not? In radio they’d call that plugola).
How did Moll Flanders come to be, and how did you pitch it?
PEN DENSHAM: You’re talking about something that’s very heartfelt to me. The thing I’ve noticed in my life is the stories I’ve written for myself, the script for Houdini, the script for Robin Hood and for Moll Flanders were not written inside the studio systems. You understand? I wrote them for myself, and they ended up on screen.
And yet I wrote Gulliver’s Travels with Arnold Schwarzenegger attached, and it didn’t get made. The head of Disney said, “It’s a wonderful script, I don’t know why I’m not going to make it.”
But the ones where I felt I was failing myself by not being at my desk when I just snuck away to write, were the most passionate, like Moll Flanders. It came to me, I knew I was going to write a woman’s story and I heard a little piece on NPR about an orphan, and I had this idea that I would write about a woman who lost her child and then was writing a message to the child she may never see again to tell the child everything about her to see if the child could ever love her for who she really was.
I only told my assistant, who was a woman, and we worked on it in secret and it poured out of me. I didn’t pitch the story, I just wrote the screenplay. It was like having an affair—it was intoxicating. This stream of consciousness happened. In five weeks, I wrote Moll Flanders along with doing all of my normal work, but in secret. My wife would be looking over at me and I’d be typing away at midnight in bed.
STEVE KAYSER: You just ruined my relationship with my wife. You wrote that in five weeks, at night and still did your regular work? I can hear her now, “Moll Flanders in five weeks? And you’ve been doodling around with your stories for how long?”
PEN DENSHAM: But let me put it in perspective. I have one screenplay that took me sixteen years to write. And that’s why creativity is a magical, sacred thing. We shouldn’t criticize ourselves whichever way it comes out of us.
The magic is that the things I’ve written that intuitively came out of me got made more often.
I firmly believe that we are happiest and most productive when working from our true nature and not trying to guess and fake what someone else wants. The scripts that are written with a powerful sense of your inner vision are more creative, complex and rich somehow. I call these “life scripts.” They contain something more profound that derives from your spirit, from your unconscious. These scripts are special. You will instinctively fight harder to get them right. Others see them as deeper and more significant as a result. For me, “life scripts” seem to get produced more frequently than the scripts that are less personally inspired.
When I was asked by USC to go teach the Cinematic Arts students, I thought it was kind of corny and weird, but I decided to just be myself and be authentic. So I taught the first lesson on passion. It sounds like a cliché, but it really isn’t. When I look at my life, the things I’ve gone furthest for, the things I’ve been humiliated for, the things I’ve taken greater risk for have been the things that have come out of my soul, not the things I try to contrive to meet someone else’s perspective of what was fashionable.
Those things seldom succeed, and when you get rejected, you give up very quickly.
When you have something that comes out of you as part of your nature and someone rejects it, you try to figure out how to change it, so you keep what was special to you, but you can mesh with the buyer.
I’ve got stacks of scripts that haven’t been made, but I’m very passionate about them.
But I’ve got more scripts made than I probably ever anticipated in my life.
That One Big Thing?
And that one thing that Pen Densham credits for his success? Having the guts to follow his heart. Follow it down through the valley of ridicule, loss, humiliation, rejection and up to a higher plain—not of Hollywood success, but of living his dream.
The B2B Complex Sale. Mysterious. Ethereal. Shivers the timbers of man and beast alike (including Marketing and PR people). It has ended the career of many a person. Sent many a company down in flames. Healthcare reform? Bah… that’s simple. Not even close to a B2B complex sale. But what really is a …
… COMPLEX SALE?
In a nutshell, it’s this. The complex sale typically refers to a high-value purchase $150,000 and higher, involving a buyer’s committee consisting of anywhere from 10 to 25 people … or more. The sales cycle is frustratingly long – anywhere from 12-36 month. Worse still it involves multiple decision-makers, all with different viewpoints, agendas and radically different and annoying personalities.
IT’S A SCIENCE–IT’S AN ART
To win at the complex sale, one must be a storyteller, master tactician, strategist, cajoler, evaluator, philosopher, psychologist, bean counter and techno-geek.
I spent a week of intense education on the topic of “complex sale.” It was tough-taught by a serious taskmaster with an honest determination for me to learn. What I took away is this … it’s complex. But not really. It’s all about people – people trying to solve a problem and you enabling them to pay you to help solve that problem. It’s also all about connections. Connecting the wants/needs/desires of the technical and business users with the Big Kahuna’s (C-leader$hip) vision and interests.
COMPLEX IS PRETTY SIMPLE
Now I have it all figured out. It’s simple. Watch closely as I skillfully take apart the most difficult of adversaries and personalities in a B2B tech complex sale.
IT DIRECTORS & CIO’S (AKA UNDERCOVER PHYSICISTS)
Physicists are incredibly brilliant and deviously clever people. They can convince you that the word “impossible” is basically “relative,” and you believe them. They can convince you that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, then they invent the word “tachyon,” which stands for a hypothetical, supraluminal quantum particle that never travels SLOWER than the speed of light. When it loses energy, it travels FASTER, and it makes complete sense when they explain it. You believe them. Yes, physicists are brilliant. Clever. Deviously so; much like IT Directors and CIO’s.
They’re the people paid to make sure everything you do (relating to technology, which is just about everything right?) in your business works smoothly, quickly and cheaper. Cheaper, that is, than it did in 1980. And they do it. They’re a very important player in any complex technology sale. You need to know they’re ultimately in the money – they report to the CFO or CEO. So if you need something that is crucial to your operations – like a brand new Mac Pro to run your in-house video-production center for your corporate PR, Sales and Marketing function – you’re going to have to convince (tangle with) them. I’m using this apocalyptic need for a Mac Pro simply as an illustration, because the total value it could DELIVER would be – in the complex sales territory – upwards of a couple hundred thousand dollars. .. conservatively speaking of course.
ONE THING YOU NEED TO KNOW
Not only are typical IT directors brilliant, clever and devious, they insist on you jumping through IMPOSSIBLE hoops, which are not really relative; things like filling out a cost-justification form and answering questions like, “What the ROI be?” and “How long will it take?” They’re not like normal people. I mean “cool, quick, awesome, we can do sweet videos on it for everyone” just doesn’t cut it with these blockheads. Even when I told them it took three days and 22 hours to edit a 30-second corporate product video, they STILL asked those inane questions about ROI and cost.
So you have to tell a whale of a story rivaling the biblical creation to convince these strange personalities that lead IT departments. It has to be Simple, Memorable, Accurate, Repeatable and Totally off the hook. (There’s an acronym there I think.) And it needs to add immense value, statistically be unassailable and substantially bumfuzzling to convince them that “impossible” is a relative term … as it applies to the new Mac Pro they will be soon be gladly approving. (There’s an acronym there too I think, but I’m bold enough not to point it out.)
SOCRATIC GOLDILOCKS-ESIAN STORYTELLING
That’s where Goldilocks comes in. Makes perfect sense to me. So tag along for an intellectual ride nonpareil.
If I told you that right now you were traveling at 1,000 mph, you’d think I’m nuts, or drank too much last night … or both. You’d be right. You’re not really traveling at 1,000 mph, You’re …
at about 1,000 mph. That’s the rotation speed of the earth. If you’re on earth right now (and hopefully you are if you’re reading this), you’re actually spinning at about 1,000 mph. That rotational speed happens to be not too fast, not too slow but just right for life to exist on earth. Much faster and severely violent weather and apocalyptic storms would reign – and life wouldn’t. Too much slower and one side of the earth would be Hades hot, the other Antarctica cold. It’s just about right.
What if I said to you right now, wherever you’re located, you’re …
at 23.5 degrees? You’d think I’m nuts, disoriented, drank too much … or all three. Well in fact, you are; 23.5 degrees is the “Obliquity of the Ecliptic.” That’s a high falutin’, scientific gobbledygook word (much like “seamlessly integrated” and “leading provider” in business lingo) that means “tilt” of the earth axis. Tilted much more or less would leave the Earth unstable – make it wobble – and the earth could tumble, making life impossible and most certainly making for a WILD RIDE in the process. Sounds like a movie to me. It’s just right.
And what if I said to you that you’re not only spinning at 1,000 mph and tilted at 23.5 degrees, you’re also traveling through space at …
… 66,000 MPH
That’s 18 miles per second. And at that 66,000 mph, we have a dancing partner – the moon. And that moon is not too big, not too small, but just the right size to stabilize the earth’s rotation and keep it from wobbling too much – and so life exists. In this earth-moon, boot scooting solar, two-step boogie, the “dark side of the moon, which we never see, also helps shield the earth from comets and meteors.
And what if I said to you, that as you’re spinning at 1,000 mph, tilted at 23.5 degrees and dancing a 66,000 mph boot-scooting solar boogie with the moon, we have a big brother watching …
Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system. Its diameter is 10 times larger than Earth and is over 300 times the mass. Jupiter’s gravitational pull is so great it’s like a mega dark side of the moon. It attracts comets and meteors away from Earth and hurls them out of the solar system. If Jupiter was much bigger, Earth would be hurled out along with them. Much smaller, and Goldilocks would be blasted with comets and meteor boulders from space – and that would just not be right.
I’m about done. (Am I working hard for the Mac Pro or not?) Two more things. If I said that you’re spinning at 1,000 mph, tilted at 23.5 degrees, while doing the 66,000 mph boot-scooting solar boogie with the moon as big brother Jupiter watches over you, that none of that matters. No, none of that would matter at all if it wasn’t for the …
Does it get any better than the sun? Free energy. Free light. Life-giving heat to ensure oxygen and water. Would hanging out at the beach even be the same? The sun is at exactly the right size and distance so we can listen to our iPod’s and whine about not having a Mac Pro while we sun ourselves at the beach. Any bigger or closer and we’d fry. Any smaller or further away and we’d be lifeless remnants memorialized in icicles.
EARTH MOON SUN BOOT-SCOOTING BOOGIE
So, spinning at 1,000 mph, tilted at 23.5 degrees, doing the 66,000 mph boot-scooting boogie with the moon as big brother Jupiter watches over and protects while the free energy, light and warmth-giving Sun nourishes life.
But none of that would really matter if we were off by ….
… ONE PART
If the expansion rate of the universe was changed by one part in a trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion, faster or slower, life on earth would not exist. Not too fast. Not too slow. Really, really, really just right.
Amazing. Bumfuzzling. And … cool. But none of that matters either if we were off …
… ONE INCH
If a measuring tape were stretched across the universe and segmented in one-inch increments (billions upon gazillions of inches) representing the force strengths of nature (gravity, electromagnetism, weak and strong nuclear forces) and the tape was moved one inch in either direction, life on earth would not exist. One inch? Not too big. Not too small. But exceptionally just right.
THE END … SORTA
Before I wrap up with my call for action, here’s a slight comment on the story facts above. It could never sell in Hollywood. Or TV. Why?
“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn’t.” – Pudd’n Head Wilson (an intellectually astute and under-appreciated philosopher)
SO ABOUT ALL THOSE FACTS AND THE MAC PRO – MY CALL TO ACTION
Dear Omnisicent, Omnipotent, IT Director:
If you take that very same measuring tape, stretched across the universe and segmented in one-inch increments (billions upon gazillions of inches) representing the allocated, amortized total cost of a Mac Pro, BUT immediately take advantage of the video value it can provide to the company … life would not only exist on earth (and my cube) better and faster, but also at prices that are at least 13.7 billion years old. Imagine, we could deliver some pretty cool and sweet looking 21st video products. So let’s do it.
THE REAL END
I wanted the pitch to be simple, memorable, accurate, repeatable and totally off the hook. And it needed to add immense value, statistically be unassailable and substantially bumfuzzling to convince him that “impossible” is a relative term … as it applies to him authorizing my new Mac Pro.
I think it was. I’m sure he understood. He approved the requisition. But he did it in terms that were simple, memorable, accurate, repeatable and totally off the hook. And it added value, was statistically unassailable and substantially bumfuzzling to me.
He put the Mac Pro on layaway for me and scheduled payment terms in one-inch increments stretched across the unfathomable expanse of the universe. Then he sent me a personalized and heartless email to tell me when to expect it.
It’s on my calendar to be picked it up in about 13.7 billion years (more or less).
If you want more info on the “Goldilocks Universe” check out: