5 years, 8 months, and 25 days — an eternity. Regardless, remember: character matters

https://www.positivepromotions.com/images/1000/LP-1749.jpg

https://i.pinimg.com/736x/e7/e4/96/e7e496c5b834ef5fbf6cd059294d8dcb.jpg

https://i0.wp.com/emilysquotes.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/EmilysQuotes.Com-character-be-good-person-Johann-Wolfgang-von-Goethe-intelligence.jpg

 

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/04/opinion/brett-kavanaugh-supreme-court-vote.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/04/us/politics/john-paul-stevens-brett-kavanaugh.html

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/10/03/opinion/kavanaugh-law-professors-letter.html?action=click&module=RelatedLinks&pgtype=Article

My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

I fear we’ve failed you.  America is an uglier and less civil place today than it was when we were your age.  That is our collective failing.

We failed because many of us have forgotten (or have chosen to ignore the fact that) character matters.  We failed because we have cast aside our humanity and are now too busy praying at the altar of Money, Power, Greed, Entertainment, Adrenaline, Likes and other false gods.

Character matters, my sons.   Don’t forget.  It always has, and it always will.

History will not be kind to those of poor character.  I pray that those who rush to seats of power give pause and think of the legacy they’ll leave behind long after they’ve vacated those seats.  Power is fleeting, whereas our legacies endure.

I’ve often said that intelligence and hard work are the stilts of success.  Many a genius slave away in obscurity, bitterness, and resentment, blaming others for their own failure to work hard to reach their true potentials.  On the flip side, many more work long hours for pittance because nature had denied them the intellectual gift it had bestowed on others or had handed them the misfortune of being born into a poor family, an uneducated family, a family stuck in a war-torn or otherwise impoverished nation, etc.  (There but for the grace of God, go us.)

Character is the third leg that forms a stool upon which your success rests.  The first two traits are all about you.  The third is about how you interact with others, or they you.  No matter your brilliance or industry, if you are nasty, false, or otherwise of low moral character, no one would want to interact with you, support you, or befriend you.  That, ultimately, is why character matters: we are not islands.  We are social creatures and need the support of others.

https://i1.wp.com/static1.quoteswave.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/If-you-want-to-go-fast.jpg

Be you, but be the best you, my sons.  We have but one life to live.  There is no dress rehearsal.

We are humans, and we make mistakes.  It’s okay.  But, when you err, own up to it.  Admit it.  Apologize for it.  Learn from it.  Promise to redouble your efforts to avoid repeating it in the future.  Then, move on.

Remember also Fr. Dave’s prescription: before you speak, ask

  1. Is it true?
  2. Is it helpful?
  3. Is it inspiring?
  4. Is it necessary?
  5. Is it kind?

Of these, I think the first and last most important.  Don’t bear false witness and treat others with kindness.  Embrace your humanity.  If you and others remember to do that, I promise our world will be a better place.

All my love, always,

Dad

P.S., I leave you with this last thought.

https://cdn.quotesgram.com/small/60/84/1695623510-3abf46f2b5511d43320f1636e1eb90a8.jpg

Are you proud of the person you see in the mirror?  Live so that you are.

Advertisements

5 years, 8 months, and 14 days. Believe in something greater than yourself.

https://i.pinimg.com/736x/e7/b7/36/e7b736ccb59057058ccb64c8e7e94227.jpg

https://www.straitstimes.com/sites/default/files/media-youtube/5ex9Nqhg-bk.jpg

Despite its provocative title, Crazy Rich Asians willfully relegates money to the corner while crowds in tuxedos, Marchesa gowns, and million-dollar earrings look away to instead focus on abstract debates of “Chineseness.” Aphorisms are declared throughout with the purpose of introducing rudimentary Chinese and American cultural differences. Unlike Americans, who follow their “passions” and selfishly pursue their “own happiness”, Eleanor—with cold, weary eyes—states that “we” put “family” first, and “understand how to build things that last.” Regardless of its basis in reality, this age-old positioning of an individualistic American dream as opposite to a Chinese nightmare of constant sacrifice—the phrase “filial piety” is uttered derisively at least once—for the greater good is an American projection that frames the United States as innately free. By presenting this as an irreconcilable division, Crazy Rich Asians erases the fact that U.S. institutions likewise demand sacrifice with the promise of future success, a structure that echoes the Christian notion of an afterlife rewarded to those who suffer.

https://mubi.com/notebook/posts/review-living-in-a-material-world-jon-m-chu-s-crazy-rich-asians

 

My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

As with everyone else, Ms. L. and I loved Crazy Rich Asians.  Although not without flaws, CRA is a smart movie, filled with interesting characters who struggled about the meaning of life and that age-old question of whether our first duty is to ourselves or others (namely our families).

Consider, for example, the directive on airplanes to take care of ourselves before taking care of our loved ones.  As you know, pre-take-off procedures require air attendants to inform passengers that should cabin pressure drops, gas masks will drop and passengers are to don masks on themselves first before helping their children and loved ones.  This directive is totally logical (how could we help others if we were to become incapacitated ourselves), but I suspect the reality is that most mindful and doting parents would willingly inconvenience themselves while they help put the masks on their children and loved ones first.  I know I would put the masks on you guys before putting it on myself.

But, the reality, at its core, is there is no conflict here.  Parents live for their children, to ensure their children have a bright future, etc.  That is our primary and overarching duty.  We are supposed to put your needs before ours, to go without while giving you the last morsel of food, to endure the cold while wrapping you in the only blanket available, to tread water while securing you safely to the life ring, etc.  Being in an airplane doesn’t change our overriding duty to care for you first and foremost.

Sometimes we, as a society, create false dichotomies where none exists.  With respect to the quoted language above from CRA, we should be cognizant that at its core, our families ultimately want what is best for us: happiness, health, and financial and personal security.  Whether they agree or disagree with our choices about what makes us happy or about whether something would afford us the financial and personal security we deserve does not present an adverse interest: they want the same thing for us as we do, only they disagree with our choices and methods.  Sometimes, their, or our, personal insecurities and fears may animate poor choices, but those poor choices do not negate the underlying love we have for one another.  Despite their weaknesses and frailties, they want what’s best for us as we do.  To borrow a phrase from Twilight, “There is no conflict here.”

The preceding statement is true if, and only if, that the parents believe there is more to his or her life than his or her survival.  In other words, the statement that “there is no conflict” is true only if the parents in question believe in something greater than him- or herself, e.g., the safety of his children, the importance of carrying on the family line, the need for the perpetuation of the human species, etc.

Thus, the underlying message here — the meaning of life — is that we must believe is something greater than ourselves and our momentary pleasures.  This is true whether we are talking about Asian traditions or Christian beliefs.  With rare exceptions (as in psychopaths), American parents, for example, ache no less than Asian parents at the loss of their child, at the sight of their children suffering immense pain, etc.  Self-sacrifice is part of what it means to be human.  (Apparently, lesser creatures on God’s Earth also exhibit the trait of self-sacrifice.  https://www.nytimes.com/1988/07/05/science/some-thoughts-on-self-sacrifice.html.)

Assuming we are willing to consider the needs of others before ours, conflicts may still arise because we humans are susceptible to having lapses in judgements.  Passion and lust often have a way of overcoming our senses and our better judgements.  Thus, in the throws of passion, it is often best to step back and think objectively about things.  However, that is easier said than done under those circumstances; thus, it is best at this point to seek the wise counsel of those who love us most and know us best … our family members.  Here, their dispassionate eyes serve as useful tools for us to more clearly see things as they are instead of how we wish them to be under rose-colored lenses of love/passion/lust.

It is also best under these circumstances … under most circumstances, for that matter … to be mindful of the long-term consequences of our decisions and the ripple effects of those decisions.  As mentioned previously in other posts, your cousin A, on your mother’s side, closed himself off to the familial advice to avoid running with the bad crowd.  Regardless of whether he hung out with them because they were fun and exciting or because he had no one else to hang out with, the reality is one or more or all of them was/were engaged in drug trafficking, and they were all arrested and burdened with felony convictions.   His life is now ruined and the trajectory of his life is forever and irrevocably altered.  Their family is also shamed for having a felon within their rank.  (But, as the saying goes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.)

When I was growing up, we were given many strictures — stay away from bad elements, be self-disciplined, be loyal to those who have helped you, and PROTECT THE FAMILY NAME.  Being mindful of the last directive helped me avoid numerous problems.  I’d give thought to how it would affect the family if it were discovered that I got caught doing so and so — untoward and unseemly things, not necessarily arising to the level of illegality.  (The equivalent Christian approach would be to ask, “What would Jesus do?”)

In other words, I believed in something greater than myself, and that made all the difference.  It wasn’t all about me.

Today, I still live by that code.  It’s not about me.  It’s about you.  It’s about leaving a legacy for you.  It’s about those around me and how to help make their lives better, our community better, etc.

As I’ve stated previously, we, as human animals, are insatiable black holes. There can never be enough to please us.  We always more, better, and different.

Remember the story of the fisherman and the magic fish.  (See below.)  Be wise. Use your head.  Let your heart guide you, but know that she may lead you astray as she can be tunnel-visioned at times.  Use your head always.  Be wise.

All my love, always,

Dad

https://img0.etsystatic.com/000/0/5344929/il_570xN.140258424.jpg

The Fisherman and His Wife

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

Once upon a time there were a fisherman and his wife who lived together in a filthy shack near the sea. Every day the fisherman went out fishing, and he fished, and he fished. Once he was sitting there fishing and looking into the clear water, and he sat, and he sat. Then his hook went to the bottom, deep down, and when he pulled it out, he had caught a large flounder.

Then the flounder said to him, “Listen, fisherman, I beg you to let me live. I am not an ordinary flounder, but an enchanted prince. How will it help you to kill me? I would not taste good to you. Put me back into the water, and let me swim.”

“Well,” said the man, “there’s no need to say more. I can certainly let a fish swim away who knows how to talk.”

With that he put it back into the clear water, and the flounder disappeared to the bottom, leaving a long trail of blood behind him.

Then the fisherman got up and went home to his wife in the filthy shack.

“Husband,” said the woman, “didn’t you catch anything today?”

“No,” said the man. “I caught a flounder, but he told me that he was an enchanted prince, so I let him swim away.”

“Didn’t you ask for anything first?” said the woman.

“No,” said the man. “What should I have asked for?”

“Oh,” said the woman. “It is terrible living in this shack. It stinks and is filthy. You should have asked for a little cottage for us. Go back and call him. Tell him that we want to have a little cottage. He will surely give it to us.”

“Oh,” said the man. “Why should I go back there?”

“Look,” said the woman, “you did catch him, and then you let him swim away. He will surely do this for us. Go right now.”

The man did not want to go, but neither did he want to oppose his wife, so he went back to the sea.

When he arrived there it was no longer clear, but yellow and green. He stood there and said:

Mandje! Mandje! Timpe Te!
Flounder, flounder, in the sea!
My wife, my wife Ilsebill,
Wants not, wants not, what I will

The flounder swam up and said, “What does she want then?”

“Oh,” said the man, “I did catch you, and now my wife says that I really should have asked for something. She doesn’t want to live in a filthy shack any longer. She would like to have a cottage.”

“Go home,” said the flounder. “She already has it.”

The man went home, and his wife was standing in the door of a cottage, and she said to him, “Come in. See, now isn’t this much better?”

There was a little front yard, and a beautiful little parlor, and a bedroom where their bed was standing, and a kitchen, and a dining room. Everything was beautifully furnished and supplied with tin and brass utensils, just as it should be. And outside there was a little yard with chickens and ducks and a garden with vegetables and fruit.

“Look,” said the woman. “Isn’t this nice?”

“Yes,” said the man. “This is quite enough. We can live here very well.”

“We will think about that,” said the woman.

Then they ate something and went to bed.

Everything went well for a week or two, and then the woman said, “Listen, husband. This cottage is too small. The yard and the garden are too little. The flounder could have given us a larger house. I would like to live in a large stone palace. Go back to the flounder and tell him to give us a palace.”

“Oh, wife,” said the man, “the cottage is good enough. Why would we want to live in a palace?”

“I know why,” said the woman. “Now you just go. The flounder can do that.”

“Now, wife, the flounder has just given us the cottage. I don’t want to go back so soon. It may make the flounder angry.”

“Just go,” said the woman. “He can do it, and he won’t mind doing it. Just go.”

The man’s heart was heavy, and he did not want to go. He said to himself, “This is not right,” but he went anyway.

When he arrived at the sea the water was purple and dark blue and gray and dense, and no longer green and yellow. He stood there and said:

Mandje! Mandje! Timpe Te!
Flounder, flounder, in the sea!
My wife, my wife Ilsebill,
Wants not, wants not, what I will

“What does she want then?” said the flounder.

“Oh,” said the man sadly, “my wife wants to live in a stone palace.”

“Go home. She’s already standing before the door,” said the flounder.

Then the man went his way, thinking he was going home, but when he arrived, standing there was a large stone palace. His wife was standing on the stairway, about to enter.

Taking him by the hand, she said, “Come inside.”

He went inside with her. Inside the palace there was a large front hallway with a marble floor. Numerous servants opened up the large doors for them. The walls were all white and covered with beautiful tapestry. In the rooms there were chairs and tables of pure gold. Crystal chandeliers hung from the ceilings. The rooms and chambers all had carpets. Food and the very best wine overloaded the tables until they almost collapsed. Outside the house there was a large courtyard with the very best carriages and stalls for horses and cows. Furthermore there was a magnificent garden with the most beautiful flowers and fine fruit trees and a pleasure forest a good half mile long, with elk and deer and hares and everything that anyone could possibly want.

“Now,” said the woman, “isn’t this nice?”

“Oh, yes” said the man. “This is quite enough. We can live in this beautiful palace and be satisfied.”

“We’ll think about it,” said the woman. “Let’s sleep on it.” And with that they went to bed.

The next morning the woman woke up first. It was just daylight, and from her bed she could see the magnificent landscape before her. Her husband was just starting to stir when she poked him in the side with her elbow and said, “Husband, get up and look out the window. Look, couldn’t we be king over all this land?”

“Oh, wife,” said the man, “why would we want to be king? I don’t want to be king.”

“Well,” said the woman, “even if you don’t want to be king, I want to be king.”

“Oh, wife,” said the man, “why do you want to be king? I don’t want to tell him that.”

“Why not?” said the woman, “Go there immediately. I must be king.”

So the man, saddened because his wife wanted to be king, went back.

“This is not right, not right at all,” thought the man. He did not want to go, but he went anyway.

When he arrived at the sea it was dark gray, and the water heaved up from below and had a foul smell. He stood there and said:

Mandje! Mandje! Timpe Te!
Flounder, flounder, in the sea!
My wife, my wife Ilsebill,
Wants not, wants not, what I will

“What does she want then,” said the flounder.

“Oh,” said the man, “she wants to be king.”

“Go home. She is already king,” said the flounder.

Then the man went home, and when he arrived there, the palace had become much larger, with a tall tower and magnificent decorations. Sentries stood outside the door, and there were so many soldiers, and drums, and trumpets. When he went inside everything was of pure marble and gold with velvet covers and large golden tassels. Then the doors to the great hall opened up, and there was the entire court. His wife was sitting on a high throne of gold and diamonds. She was wearing a large golden crown, and in her hand was a scepter of pure gold and precious stones. On either side of her there stood a line of maids-in-waiting, each one a head shorter than the other.

“Oh, wife, are you now king?”

“Yes,” she said, “now I am king.”

He stood and looked at her, and after thus looking at her for a while he said, “Wife, it is very nice that you are king. Now we don’t have to wish for anything else.”

“No, husband,” she said, becoming restless. “Time is on my hands. I cannot stand it any longer. Go to the flounder. I am king, but now I must become emperor.”

“Oh, wife” said the man, “Why do you want to become emperor?”

“Husband,” she said, “go to the flounder. I want to be emperor.”

“Oh, wife,” said the man, “he cannot make you emperor. I cannot tell the flounder to do that. There is only one emperor in the realm. The flounder cannot make you emperor. He cannot do that.”

“What!” said the woman. “I am king, and you are my husband. Are you going? Go there immediately. If he can make me king then he can make me emperor. I want to be and have to be emperor. Go there immediately.”

So he had to go. As he went on his way the frightened man thought to himself, “This is not going to end well. To ask to be emperor is shameful. The flounder is going to get tired of this.”

With that he arrived at the sea. The water was all black and dense and boiling up from within. A strong wind blew over him that curdled the water. He stood there and said:

Mandje! Mandje! Timpe Te!
Flounder, flounder, in the sea!
My wife, my wife Ilsebill,
Wants not, wants not, what I will

“What does she want then?” said the flounder.

“Oh, flounder,” he said, “my wife wants to become emperor.”

“Go home,” said the flounder. “She is already emperor.”

Then the man went home, and when he arrived there, the entire palace was made of polished marble with alabaster statues and golden decoration. Soldiers were marching outside the gate, blowing trumpets and beating tympani and drums. Inside the house, barons and counts and dukes were walking around like servants. They opened the doors for him, which were made of pure gold. He went inside where his wife was sitting on a throne made of one piece of gold a good two miles high, and she was wearing a large golden crown that was three yards high, all set with diamonds and carbuncles. In the one hand she had a scepter, and in the other the imperial orb. Bodyguards were standing in two rows at her sides: each one smaller than the other, beginning with the largest giant and ending with the littlest dwarf, who was no larger than my little finger. Many princes and dukes were standing in front of her.

The man went and stood among them and said, “Wife, are you emperor now?”

“Yes,” she said, “I am emperor.”

He stood and looked at her, and after thus looking at her for a while, he said, “Wife, it is very nice that you are emperor.”

“Husband,” she said. “Why are you standing there? Now that I am emperor, and I want to become pope.”

“Oh, wife!” said the man. “What do you not want? There is only one pope in all Christendom. He cannot make you pope.”

“Husband,” she said, “I want to become pope. Go there immediately. I must become pope this very day.”

“No, wife,” he said, “I cannot tell him that. It will come to no good. That is too much. The flounder cannot make you pope.”

“Husband, what nonsense!” said the woman. “If he can make me emperor, then he can make me pope as well. Go there immediately. I am emperor, and you are my husband. Are you going?”

Then the frightened man went. He felt sick all over, and his knees and legs were shaking, and the wind was blowing over the land, and clouds flew by as the darkness of evening fell. Leaves blew from the trees, and the water roared and boiled as it crashed onto the shore. In the distance he could see ships, shooting distress signals as they tossed and turned on the waves. There was a little blue in the middle of the sky, but on all sides it had turned red, as in a terrible lightning storm. Full of despair he stood there and said:

Mandje! Mandje! Timpe Te!
Flounder, flounder, in the sea!
My wife, my wife Ilsebill,
Wants not, wants not, what I will

“What does she want then?” said the flounder.

“Oh,” said the man, “she wants to become pope.”

“Go home,” said the flounder. “She is already pope.”

Then he went home, and when he arrived there, there was a large church surrounded by nothing but palaces. He forced his way through the crowd. Inside everything was illuminated with thousands and thousands of lights, and his wife was clothed in pure gold and sitting on a much higher throne. She was wearing three large golden crowns. She was surrounded with church-like splendor, and at her sides there were two banks of candles. The largest was as thick and as tall as the largest tower, down to the smallest kitchen candle. And all the emperors and kings were kneeling before her kissing her slipper.

“Wife,” said the man, giving her a good look, “are you pope now?”

“Yes,” she said, “I am pope.”

Then he stood there looking at her, and it was as if he were looking into the bright sun. After he had looked at her for a while he said, “Wife, It is good that you are pope!”

She stood there as stiff as a tree, neither stirring nor moving.

Then he said, “Wife, be satisfied now that you are pope. There is nothing else that you can become.”

“I have to think about that,” said the woman.

Then they both went to bed, but she was not satisfied. Her desires would not let her sleep. She kept thinking what she wanted to become next.

The man slept well and soundly, for he had run about a lot during the day, but the woman could not sleep at all, but tossed and turned from one side to the other all night long, always thinking about what she could become, but she could not think of anything.

Then the sun was about to rise, and when she saw the early light of dawn she sat up in bed and watched through the window as the sun came up.

“Aha,” she thought. “Could not I cause the sun and the moon to rise?”

“Husband,” she said, poking him in the ribs with her elbow, “wake up and go back to the flounder. I want to become like God.”

The man, who was still mostly asleep, was so startled that he fell out of bed. He thought that he had misunderstood her, so, rubbing his eyes, he said, “Wife, what did you say?”

“Husband,” she said, “I cannot stand it when I see the sun and the moon rising, and I cannot cause them to do so. I will not have a single hour of peace until I myself can cause them to rise.”

She looked at him so gruesomely that he shuddered.

“Go there immediately. I want to become like God.”

“Oh, wife,” said the man, falling on his knees before her, “the flounder cannot do that. He can make you emperor and pope, but I beg you, be satisfied and remain pope.”

Anger fell over her. Her hair flew wildly about her head. Tearing open her bodice she kicked him with her foot and shouted, “I cannot stand it! I cannot stand it any longer! Go there immediately!”

He put on his trousers and ran off like a madman.

Outside such a storm was raging that he could hardly stand on his feet. Houses and trees were blowing over. The mountains were shaking, and boulders were rolling from the cliffs into the sea. The sky was as black as pitch. There was thunder and lightning. In the sea there were great black waves as high as church towers and mountains, all capped with crowns of white foam.

Mandje! Mandje! Timpe Te!
Flounder, flounder, in the sea!
My wife, my wife Ilsebill,
Wants not, wants not, what I will

“What does she want then?” said the flounder.

“Oh,” he said, “she wants to become like God.”

“Go home. She is sitting in her filthy shack again.”

And they are sitting there even today.

https://www.pitt.edu/%7Edash/grimm019.html

 

5 years, 8 months, and 10 days. Success requires you to extend yourself beyond your comfort zone.

https://i0.wp.com/www.wealthywebwriter.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/bigstock-Great-Things-comfort-zone-77745719-e1428962035577.jpg

https://shoshandjaialai.files.wordpress.com/2018/09/e4afe-jon_jones_quotes_bones.jpg?w=656

https://i.pinimg.com/736x/f0/aa/da/f0aada514c305954dd6dca8186ffeaac.jpg

My most precious Shosh and Jaialai:

5 years, 8 months, and 10 days.  That is 5 years, 8 months, and 10 days which I will never be able to recapture and those are lost moments I could never spend with you, my most precious sons.  How have you grown?  What are your dreams?  What are your fears?  What stands in the way of you achieving your dreams?  Oh how I wish I could be there to guide you in person!  Until that happens, this must do.

Okay, today I want to talk to you about comfort zones.  They are overrated.  Most of us are most comfortable in our pajamas, hanging out in our living room.  However, greatness rarely results from us hanging out in our living rooms in our PJs.

Greatness and success require you to be uncomfortable … to stretch beyond your comfort zone.  Being comfortable usually means doing the same things you’ve done before and that you are used to doing.  In other words, being comfortable often means running in place.  What do you achieve by that?  More of the same!  Not much else.

To get better, do as Jaialai had once said to me when he was about four years old, “Let’s go somewhere where we’ve never been, Dad!”  Break out of your comfort zone!  Try new things!  Get used to trying new things, and embrace the discomfort of ideas and things new and foreign to yourselves.  Success lies there.

I cannot tell you the number of times I have witnessed clients repeatedly executing the same failed strategies, then wondering why they were not successful.  As our dear friend Albert once said,

https://i.pinimg.com/originals/46/e8/96/46e8963566644c742d725a3b7ec5fd1a.jpg

Dare to do different!  Be bold!  Reject mediocrity!  Reject that which is staid!

Where would be we be today if Steve Job hadn’t bucked convention (computers were accessible only to engineers and geeks then) and pushed to make computers operable by all?  Where would we be today if Bill Gates hadn’t envisioned a world where there is “a computer on every desk and in every home[?]”  https://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/3357701/Bill-Gatess-dream-A-computer-in-every-home.html.

Don’t let WHAT IS prevent you from pursuing WHAT MAY BE!  This is critical!  For example, this “boys will be boys” bullshit that is playing out in the news is simply that … bullshit!  Be better!  We are men, not animals.  We can grow and change.  We must aspire to be better than our forebears!  We owe it to them for having made the sacrifices that enabled us to be better and more successful than they.

https://i1.wp.com/img.picturequotes.com/2/365/364414/i-have-to-study-politics-and-war-so-that-my-sons-can-study-mathematics-commerce-and-agriculture-so-quote-1.jpg

Be better, my sons.  Be better.

All my love, always,

Dad

https://i.pinimg.com/736x/24/38/55/2438559c1b3b204bfaca25636ef12541.jpg

 

5 years, 8 months, and 7 days. We are but stewards of our planets and our talents; it is our duty to nurture and not squander each.

https://i0.wp.com/stlcatholicyouth.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/13256636_277098089310922_858171911_n.jpg

https://i1.wp.com/slideplayer.com/slide/4346735/14/images/5/What+are+we+stewards+of.jpg

https://i.pinimg.com/736x/5a/25/55/5a25555e5a55cb30bd0833d6c9ca1701--top-quotes-picture-quotes.jpg

 

My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

Too often, people blind themselves to problems occurring outside their homes and occupy themselves only to what immediately affects their own lives.  They leave the problems at large (e.g., pollution, injustice, fascism, racism, environmental degradation, etc.) to the care of others.  This is known as the “free-ridership problem”.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains the problem as follows:

In many contexts, all of the individual members of a group can benefit from the efforts of each member and all can benefit substantially from collective action. For example, if each of us pollutes less by paying a bit extra for our cars, we all benefit from the reduction of harmful gases in the air we breathe and even in the reduced harm to the ozone layer that protects us against exposure to carcinogenic ultraviolet radiation (although those with fair skin benefit far more from the latter than do those with dark skin). If all of us or some subgroup of us prefer the state of affairs in which we each pay this bit over the state of affairs in which we do not, then the provision of cleaner air is a collective good for us. (If it costs more than it is worth to us, then its provision is not a collective good for us.)

Unfortunately, my polluting less does not matter enough for anyone—especially me—to notice. Therefore, I may not contribute my share toward not fouling the atmosphere. I may be a free rider (or freerider) on the beneficial actions of others. This is a compelling instance of the logic of collective action, an instance of such grave import that we pass laws to regulate the behavior of individuals to force them to pollute less.

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/free-rider/

Greater minds than mine have argued the morality of free-ridership, i.e., whether it is immoral for me to sponge off another or whether it is immoral for another to impose their collective will upon me.  Id.  But, I think they miss the point: I have a moral obligation to not waste finite resources.  For example, if I were given a basket of food sufficient to feed 10 people, would it not be morally wrong and morally repugnant of me to pick a few items out of the basket then waste the rest as target practice, especially when there are others who go without food and could have used the food I wasted?  If that’s true and if my moral duty is to keep myself alive and not burden others, then my obligations must include nurturing and making the best use of the finite resources which sustain life and an orderly society.  Whether I do this individually or collectively is a separate matter.

Your maternal grandmother, imperfect as she may be, has done us a great service by teaching us at a young age to care others.  We used to tutor children, help carry groceries for our elderly neighbors, mow their lawns, push cars stuck in ice and snow as we walked to church, translate for schools and churches, etc.  In other words, she taught us to be activists.

Her teaching is in keeping with our faith.  As stated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, where I once worked:

16 The way we came to know love was that he laid down his life for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.k

17If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him?l

18Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.m

http://usccb.org/bible/1john/3/

Although not religious, I am spiritual and try to live right.  Thus, I have spent years working with refugees (in the U.S. as well as overseas), caring for the homeless (by both creating policies and homeless shelters for them as well as feeding and caring for them during the freeze of winter), helping the poor and the elderly (by building homes and improving the safety net for those in need), protecting children and victims of domestic violence, etc.  I believe we are called to actions not just by our faith, but by our humanity.  For example, how can we blind ourselves to the fact that “40 million people struggle with hunger in the United States, including more than 12 million children” … innocent children like you?  http://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/facts.html.

Yet, for my efforts, I have been accused of, and admonished for, harming you, my own children, because I once lost my job and harmed my career by fighting the Enron of Healthcare to stop them from harming the sick and dying, to stop them from denying the insurance coverage and medical care for which policy holders have paid and for which they were then in great need.  My accusers missed the point: by fighting the corrupt insurance company, I protected you and them from the corrupted practices of that particular insurance company and of other insurance companies in general.  (The Enron of Healthcare is one of 10 largest health insurance companies in the U.S., and covers you guys as well as my accusers.)  By taking the fight to insurance regulators and to the court, after failing to stop the illegal practices internally, I exposed those corrupt practices.  Insurance regulators spent a year investigating that insurer.  They corroborated all of my allegations and found numerous other violations.  By publicizing their findings and issuing fines, they gave notice to that insurance carrier and all others that such harmful and corrupt practices would not be tolerated.

We live in a closed system, my sons.  Pollutants and poor environmental policies adversely affecting the South and Midwest affect us in terms of rising food costs and societal costs.  Chemicals dumped into rivers harm our fish, hurt of water system, and poison our oceans … all of which comes back to haunt us.  Our silence when others are bullied is assent and emboldens the bullies.  Can we then complain when the bullies move past their targets to us?

I am always mindful of the lessons of Martin Niemöller.  Speaking about the fascism of the Nazis, he states:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/martin-niemoeller-first-they-came-for-the-socialists.

Live well, my sons.  Live right.  I never promised you that life would be easy, only that you would find life rewarding if you lived well and helped others.

All my love, always,

Dad

P.S., I leave you with this thought.

https://i1.wp.com/www.thequotepedia.com/images/06/educating-the-mind-without-educating-the-heart-is-no-education-at-all-education-quote.jpg

5 years, 8 months, and 2 days. Embrace the wisdom of our forefathers.

https://i.pinimg.com/originals/3a/db/62/3adb62458565e775daf44731fabf2b92.jpg

https://i0.wp.com/img.loigiaihay.com/picture/article/2014/0228/667352191393556026_small.jpg

If immersed in ink, you will be stained dark.  If bathed in light, you will be enlightened. — an ancient Vietnamese saying.

https://www.languageties.com/sites/default/files/images/lexical/007-Birds-of-a-feather-flock-together.jpg

https://i2.wp.com/img.picturequotes.com/2/396/395190/we-think-too-small-like-the-frog-at-the-bottom-of-the-well-he-thinks-the-sky-is-only-as-big-as-the-quote-1.jpg

 

My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

Dark days lie ahead.  I don’t know how this journey ends.  None of us do.

I want you to know that, in my life, I am guided by the wisdom of the ages.  Fads come and go.  But real knowledge has a way of sticking around.  For example, we still today immerse ourselves in the learnings of the ancient Greeks and Chinese philosophers, who lived thousands of years ago.  Why? It’s because those lessons have been tested in the crucible of time.

Today’s teachings are often lacks depth.  They are devoid of long-term wisdom.

For example, when I did research for my Honors Thesis on “Child Rearing Practices an Prosocial Development” for the Honors Program in Psychology in undergraduate, studies at the time and from earlier times state corporal punishment is one tool in the arsenal of tools parents must use to help raise altruistic and healthy children who will become contributing members of society.  In other words, measured spanking is but ONE tool among many.  It is a necessary tool because consequences and accountability are important parts of life.  Both the carrot and the stick are needed to encourage good behaviours and discourage bad ones.  (See, e.g., https://caselaw.findlaw.com/ca-court-of-appeal/1655269.html, a court case which states it is not abuse, in the process of preventing their once-good child from joining a gang, for parents to use a wooden spoon to spank a child after trying all other forms of punishment.  Note also how the court took pains to enshrine in writing in footnotes and to make part of the record the lies told by CPS in its efforts to assert its power without any regards for the true interests of the child … that she stay on the good path and not go down the destructive path of gangs and violence.)

These days, the “wisdom” is for parents to not even yell at their kids, much less spank them.  See, e.g., https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/05/well/family/why-you-should-stop-yelling-at-your-kids.html.

Is that wise?  Does that solve the problem and help raise better and more well-adjusted kids?  No!  With horrible consequences, it only shifted the burden from parents and teachers disciplining kids to school police to do so.  Troubled behaviors that once would have resulted in admonishment in class, detention, conversations with parents, suspension, etc., now results in tazing, physical assaults, arrests, handcuffs, jail time, juvenile criminal records, etc.  See, e.g., https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/school-safety-students-police-abuse_us_5b746a4ce4b0df9b093b8d6a; https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/11/why-do-most-school-cops-have-no-student-training-requirements/414286/; https://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/29/us/police-officers-in-schools.html; https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/police-in-schools-keeping-kids-safe-or-arresting-them-for-no-good-reason/2015/11/08/937ddfd0-816c-11e5-9afb-0c971f713d0c_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.006da1640595; http://www.latimes.com/local/education/la-me-edu-aclu-report-20161017-snap-story.html.

 

No, my sons, think for yourselves, but use as guides the wisdom of the ancients.  For example, we are rediscovering the positives benefits of copper in medical treatment, something the ancients used to use before that practice fell out of favor for more modern pharmaceuticals.   https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/the-bacteria-fighting-super-element-making-a-return-to-hospitals-copper/2015/09/20/19251704-5beb-11e5-8e9e-dce8a2a2a679_story.html?utm_term=.16210f211e7a.

With the above said, let me share that I am guided by three adages, which capture relevant wisdom of the ancients.

(1) All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.  This is your world and your community.  You have but one world.  Protect it.  Fight for good and fight against evil.  Be prone to action.  Words are cheap.  Everyday, you see people give lip service to what is good and right, but wouldn’t lift a finger to protect what is good and right.  Don’t be like them.  Be prone to action.  Remember Teddy Roosevelt’s famous “Man in the Arena” speech.  It is noteworthy.  Remember, too, the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson:

https://duckduckgrayduck.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/success.jpg?w=656

(2) If immersed in ink, you will be stained dark.  If bathed in light, you will be enlightened.  Surround yourselves with good people, who will inspire you and help you aspire to be better. Work towards continuous incremental improvements, so that you will be better today than you were yesterday and better tomorrow than today.  We need more good people in the world: builders, problem solvers, helpers … those with good hearts and good intentions.  Surround yourselves with good peeps.

On the other hand, stay away from evil because it will drag you down to its level.  Your cousin on your mother’s side ignored the warnings and was caught in a car carrying drugs.  The police charged all the occupants of the vehicle with possession with the intent to sell.  He claimed he was just hanging out with friends and knew nothing of the drugs.  Regardless of the truth, the consequences were dire.  He now has a felony conviction and will forever by marked by that. 

Wrongful convictions are a major problems in the American justice system.  See, e.g., https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/opinions/wp/2018/09/10/report-wrongful-convictions-have-stolen-at-least-20000-years-from-innocent-defendants/?utm_term=.a643e396962d; https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-cost-of-convicting-the-innocent/2015/07/24/260fc3a2-1aae-11e5-93b7-5eddc056ad8a_story.html; http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-texas-judge-20131109-story.html; https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/01/magazine/she-was-convicted-of-killing-her-mother-prosecutors-withheld-the-evidence-that-would-have-freed-her.html; http://www.law.northwestern.edu/legalclinic/wrongfulconvictions/aboutus/; https://www.innocenceproject.org/.  It’s a reality.  Avoid putting yourselves from that situation if you can.  .

(3) A frog at the bottom of the well thinks the sky is only as big as the mouth of the well.  Learn and expand your horizons.  Read voraciously.  Engage with others, those who are good-hearted and who have good intentions.  As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “You can learn something from everyone.”

Ignorance begets fear.  Don’t live in ignorance and fear.  Arm yourselves with knowledge.  Reserve judgement and try to see things from the other’s perspective.  Keep an open mind.  Give people a chance, but don’t waste your time on every sob story.  The world has 7.6 billion people.  You don’t have time to meet and measure everyone.  Use heuristics and rules of thumbs to help you more efficiently find the good.  For example, you are more likely to find the good among kids who volunteer to help the homeless, clean up the environment, or feed the hungry than among kids who hangs out at corners, smoking cigarettes or pot, who sneak out in the cover of darkness to tag walls and paint graffiti.  Not all of the kids in the latter group is bad, but your time is better spent interacting with kids in the good group and helping others.

One of my regrets is that I didn’t involve you when I volunteered to feed the hungry; build homes for the poor; help the disabled, the elderly, and the victims of domestic abuse; etc.  I wish I had.  Your mother doesn’t do those things so you have never seen such behavior modeled.  That is my failing. I am sorry.

Be well, my sons.  Learn from life and the wisdom of those who came before us.  Be good.  Be happy.

All my love, always,

Dad

 

5 years, 7 months, and 18 days. John McCain’s Rules for Living.

https://shoshandjaialai.files.wordpress.com/2018/08/0c77d-john-mccain.png?w=656

My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

Today, I want you to hear from a good man, Senator John McCain, who passed away recently.  Heed well his lessons for living, as recounted by his former staff member, John Raidt.

John McCain’s Rules for Living

He was a man of extraordinary conviction and character. This was his code.

The words came passionately and instinctively, drawn not so much from the man’s memory as from his spirit. It was 1984 and the quote was the answer delivered by freshman Rep. John McCain to the handful of constituents who had filtered into an Arizona community center for a townhall meeting.

McCain was replying to a constituent’s criticism about U.S. involvement abroad. I can’t recall whether the objection was to the United States’ support for democracy in a foreign land or the cost of U.S. relief from African famine. Both were topics at the townhalls that winter. In either case, as I was to learn, McCain’s answer would have come from the same core.

What I vividly remember as a young staffer – I would go on to serve with McCain for 16 years — was the respectful hush that fell over the small assembly, not just because of what he said, but the conviction with which he said it. It was clear, even to those who had come to scold him for holding positions they opposed, that McCain’s words were not the glib rejoinder of a politician. They expressed the passions of a leader with an authentic moral compass, someone who thought deeply about and sacrificed much for his ideals; and was to give much, much more. And they explain the man well.

Fulfilling the obligation to contest evil was John McCain’s life force. It was the source of his legendary, almost impossible, store of personal courage and energy, and the purpose of his public missions. He was a force of nature driven by a monumental sense of duty, an absolute faith in the morality of democracy, and an eagerness for the nation to lead in a needy world.

The list of evils against which he fought the good fight is long and well chronicled: from communism to violent extremism to tyranny of every mode. He fought human trafficking and other abominations of human rights. He dueled man’s inhumanity to man, including torture and the nation’s mistreatment of Native Americans. He tilted against a corrupt and corrosive national campaign finance system; congressional ineptitude and irresponsibility; waste and greed in the defense industry; the world’s uncontrolled experiment with the Earth’s atmosphere and climate system; and the public health scourge of tobacco.

Over his political career, the senator was called a conservative, a maverick, a rebel, a fighter, and a firebrand. He is, of course, each of these, and more.

***

I knew John McCain for 36 years, including the 16 I served on his staff. I would like to share some personal reflections and the key lessons from McCain’s life in politics and public service, including how they bear on the United States’ role in the world.

From the beginning, it was clear the McCain political philosophy was shaped by his reverence for the triad of human progress: individual rights, personal responsibility and public accountability. His credo is rooted in a profound respect for the dignity of the person as the basic unit of the commonwealth, and in the core conviction that moral and material prosperity are the product of free people, free markets and free enterprise, facilitated by government; not the other way around. His policies, programs and votes over the years flowed from these basic tenets. If he was a maverick, I think it’s because partisans on both sides of the spectrum are apt to treat the purposes of union and the American form of government spelled out in the Constitution’s preamble as a menu. McCain regarded them as a recipe.

McCain rejoiced in policy scrums that were opinionated, candid, and tough — seeing it as the spirited exercise of democracy; but he aspired for the political process to be fundamentally fair and worthy, understanding that democracy is a process not a war. This is why, to the chagrin of elements in his own party, he strongly supported minority rights and regular order in Congress.

McCain’s most profound legacy, however, will certainly be his character. Maybe over the years, in the heat of battle, he crossed the rhetorical line a time or two, but he never lost the boxer’s disdain for the low blow. His sense of fairness and countless acts of decency stood in stark contrast to the tribal, demoralizing character of Washington today. So, in that spirit, here are some of the key character-forming habits of mind and behavior I observed in McCain in the form of lessons learned — virtues we would hope for in all our nation’s leaders, and in ourselves.

***

Listen actively. McCain was always a listener, listening with as much intensity and presence as he replied. At hearings and in everyday conversations one could see his eyes boring in and his neck craned toward the witness to catch every word. He hungered to know what people thought and why, even when they disagreed with him, perhaps especially when they disagreed. His long love affair with townhall meetings was not so much the opportunity to address voters at scale; rather, it was so he could hear what others had to say. As a freshman congressman, hung on the wall overlooking the conference table in his district office was Norman Rockwell’s painting “Freedom of Speech.” The picture spoke volumes.

Learn avidly. McCain had an insatiable intellectual curiosity and worked hard at acquiring knowledge. He never presumed that wisdom accompanied an election certificate or seniority. I can’t remember a day when he wasn’t the first person in the office with a stack of newspapers piled on his lap, consuming them one by one. Nor do I ever recall when he wasn’t in the thrall of a good book. He regarded everyone he encountered as a learning opportunity, and would grow frustrated when expounding on issues more than learning about them.

Engage generously. McCain made eye contact with everyone, regardless of rank or stature. It wasn’t a tactic, but an innate inclination toward inclusiveness. To McCain, everyone mattered.

Care deeply and serve passionately. I’m not sure there is anyone in American politics who evinced more genuine passion about his or her ideals and missions. McCain’s career was a testament to the truth that nothing worthwhile can be accomplished without a deep, enthusiastic sense of purpose. He cared about people and his principles intensely, and it showed.

Work tirelessly. No one worked harder. During his first run for Congress, McCain wore holes in his shoes walking door to door. His wife, Cindy, had the shoes bronzed. For many years they stood beside his fireplace, not as a trophy but as a reminder that relentless hard work and persistence are the price of high achievement. McCain often quoted Winston Churchill’s counsel to “Never, ever, ever, ever, ever give up!” More importantly, he practiced it.

Think for yourself. McCain liked to assay truth for himself. He valued input and advice and respected general opinion, but he wanted to satisfy himself about the validity of any argument, cause, or position. He wanted to know something, not just hear it, and was open to arguments based on evidence and reason that countered his prevailing viewpoint.

Call it like you see it. “Straight talk” wasn’t a campaign slogan. It was an operating system. I saw it in countless interactions with constituents and colleagues. He said exactly what he thought, not what might be expedient or politic. His arguments, however, weren’t always meant to convince. Sometimes they were meant to elicit the counter-argument to test the merits of both.

Have courage in your conviction. McCain not only showed moral and intellectual courage in his public stances but also physical courage, putting himself in harm’s way. He traveled to countless zones of conflict and human suffering, from war fronts to refugee camps, standing with dissidents and putting something more on the line than a good speech. He didn’t just sympathize and stand up in the Senate for oppressed people; he stood with them, taking part in pro-democracy rallies in Ukraine, walking the streets of Baghdad, visiting with the displaced of Syria, and circuiting the mountains of Afghanistan.

Team energetically. The military culture in which McCain was raised inculcated the precept that nothing worth achieving can be accomplished alone. He regarded everyone’s role, no matter how small, to be essential. In the early years, he kept a practice of regularly visiting the office mailroom to keep up morale and reinforce the team ethic. And to him, a good idea was a good idea regardless of who had it. He encouraged creativity and entrepreneurship in his staff. His team ethic, however, never dulled a keen sense of personal accountability. Typically, whether in his official duties, political campaigns, or private matters, he would own failure while credit for success would be shared. In his company one heard “we” far more than “I.”

But he could be withering in his criticism, and perhaps no elected official was a harsher critic of his own institution – Congress – than McCain. His reproach sprang from a deep respect for the essential role of the legislative branch in a healthy democracy, and from a significant measure of fear about what congressional dysfunction portends for the country’s future.

Duty first. Other than on philosophical grounds, I am not sure one could perceive a discernible difference between the way McCain treated government witnesses representing Republican presidents than those under a Democrat. He was tough on the executive branch because that is part of the job — and when an administration wasn’t doing its duty, he said so, loudly.

Respect the process. Here’s how McCain thought Congress was supposed to work, in six steps: public introduction of a proposal, official public hearings, committee action, referral to full House and Senate for consideration, amendment, and up or down vote. The modern Congress has shelved this process in favor of an ad hoc system administered by the majority in which all too often major legislation is shaped in secret, sprung on the full body, barely read or understood, and, when approved, passed along mainly partisan lines. The practice assures the enactment of laws rife with unintended consequences while intensifying partisan animosity. It means that on major pieces of legislation nearly half of Congress and the public feel alienated and cheated. Moreover, it assures that when majorities flip, the new party in power repays the favor. This lack of “regular order” was a prime reason for McCain’s controversial vote against the Obamacare repeal. To have been the deciding vote in concert with one’s party to erase the centerpiece accomplishment of the individual who defeated you in a presidential election would have been all too tempting for a typical politician. Not McCain. He cared deeply about process, because to him, it was essential to democracy.

Protect the minority. The United States is an experiment in self-government, rule of law, and the protection of basic human freedom and rights. Among them are the rights of minorities, including political minorities. For many years, McCain served in the minority party and when that flipped, he didn’t forget what it was like. He stood up to ensure that the minority party is afforded the right to view, amend, and be consulted on legislation and policy. In the committees he chaired, he tried diligently to protect the due prerogatives of all members regardless of party. It wasn’t always just a gesture of fairness: He recognized that political winds change, and that as the national political pendulum swings, parties will inevitably be required to labor in the minority under the same standards and practices of treatment they imposed while in power.

Engage the opposition. McCain didn’t hide from anyone. On the contrary, he engaged his political adversaries. He would take meetings that many other elected officials wouldn’t consider. Rather than sneaking in and out of back doors, he was known to invite protesters into his office to discuss their grievances. During the Cold War he was happy to meet with Nuclear Freeze groups. While they agreed on very little, the senator respected their intentions and activism. Even if the meeting didn’t forge consensus, it established mutual understanding and respectful give and take.

As a congressman, McCain was the beneficiary of the friendship and inclusion shown him by Morris Udall, a beloved Arizona Democrat who for many years chaired the House Interior Committee. Udall could have easily ignored McCain, a junior member of the other party, but went out of his way to take him under his wing. He had no reason to do it other than common decency. McCain never forgot the kindness shown to him. As he rose in seniority and came to majority power he tried to pay the example forward. He extended his hand of friendship and partnership to young liberals like Russ Feingold and Paul Wellstone, and over the years maintained tight friendships with many Democrats, including Joe Lieberman, Joe Biden, Ted Kennedy and Sheldon Whitehouse.

As electoral politics grow increasingly tribal, driving party bases to donor envelopes and the voting booth, respectful cross-aisle friendships and collaboration are becoming rarer in Washington. This miserable trend overlooks that Americans, including the parties, have far more in common than not. The animus is destroying Congress and the middle ground essential for principled compromise that remains the heart and soul of democratic governance.

Take risks. McCain was a political risk taker. He respected the duty of an elected official to represent but also felt an obligation to lead, unafraid to expend his capital on politically risky but important initiatives. As a newly elected Reagan Republican, he opposed Ronald Reagan’s deployment of Marines to Lebanon. He risked the wrath of his party in championing campaign finance reform. He wasn’t afraid to offend Arizona’s power and water interests in altering dam operations on the Colorado River to protect Grand Canyon National Park or stand up to the state’s cattle and mining industry in helping put 3.5 million acres of Arizona under wilderness protection. He didn’t shrink from upsetting powerful commercial interests at home by championing Native American rights, including water entitlements; or in key primary states, by sticking to his opposition to ethanol subsidies so dear to the corn growers of Iowa and to his advocacy for anti-smoking controls despite the power of tobacco farmers in South Carolina.

In taking controversial stands during his White House runs he stated, “I would rather be right than president.” McCain firmly believed that if you did the right thing for the right reasons the electorate would support you. It did in two House elections and six Senate campaigns. When it didn’t in two presidential races, he could move on undiminished, honor intact. The point is that without political risk takers on both sides of the aisle, very little can be achieved across it.

Clean up the role of money in politics. Nothing offended McCain more than the appearance that Congress is bought and paid for by special interests. He felt this most acutely in the aftermath of the Keating Five corruption scandal in which he was embroiled, but the conviction only increased as he came to appreciate the intensity of the public’s cynicism about the system. Public trust is a fragile but essential component of democracy. Without limits on the time elected officials spend fundraising and the amount that a special interest can spend to influence races, the alienation between the elected and the electorate will only grow wider — all to the delight of foreign powers seeking to destroy our form of government from within.

Honor the office. McCain felt keenly that positions of elected leadership are not about the occupant. It’s the office that counts — or, as he put it, “the opportunity to do something rather than be somebody.” Every elected position is a trust that comes with the heavy weight of history and responsibility to the future. As important as the president of the United States may be, the office of the president of the United States is what really matters.

Curate freedom’s comparative advantage. His friend, the Irish rock star Bono, observed that the United States is not just a place but an idea. McCain agreed. Throughout his career, he devoted himself to protecting the idea, including for 25 years as chairman of the International Republican Institute, a component of the National Endowment for Democracy. And as a national political leader, he sought to ensure that the United States remains a just and worthy custodian of the idea. For many years, freedom lovers across the world looked to McCain for leadership and support. They drew strength from his mission to ensure that the United States remains a bulwark of liberty for those who have it and a beacon of hope for those who don’t.

America’s economic and military power are, first and foremost, the product of the country’s values and ideals. They are the foundation for everything that makes the United States exceptional and influential. Over the years, McCain routinely admonished friends and allies that “what separates us from our adversaries is our respect for human rights.” Should we forget that, the American sunset as a nation of good and great influence and consequence will be nearer than its dawn.

Lead from the front. I’m not sure anything was as offensive or antithetical to John as the notion of the United States leading from behind. Leading from the front doesn’t mean that the United States must own every global problem. McCain was always zealous for friends and allies to pull their weight. But, leadership means leadership. It can’t be sustained passively from the loge section of world events.

Peace through strength. McCain’s career-long commitment to strong armed services was not the product of an affinity for conflict. On the contrary, knowing firsthand the cost of war, he had a unique understanding and loathing of its horrors. His conviction that national defense must be generously but prudently funded, was informed by the bitterly learned lessons of history that tyrants only understand strength, and that remaining vigilant and strong is the price of sustaining peace, security, and freedom.

Defense of democratic values is a team sport. McCain understood the need for tightly knit international cooperation and strong alliances to sustain peace and defend liberal democracy, freedom, the rule of law and human rights. He was a faithful participant in the annual Munich Security Conference, a 55-year-old institution that brings together the international security community devoted to addressing the world’s most pressing security concerns, and building peace through dialogue.

At its annual conference last February, McCain received an award for his contribution to transatlantic relations. The acceptance letter was read by his wife Cindy. “We come to Munich,” he wrote, “because we want to live in a world where truth transcends falsehood, sovereignty triumphs over subjugation, justice reigns over oppression, freedom overcomes tyranny, where power is transformed into legitimacy, and the fate of people and nations is determined by the rule of law, not the whim of rulers. We come to Munich because we know—and we can never afford to forget—that the alternative to a world ordered by these values is a dark and cruel place, where laws, and rules, and rights count for nothing, and selfish, brute force trumps all.”

In its coda, he issued this challenge to NATO allies and all friends in the cause of human advancement: “I am counting on all of you, my friends, to honor the precious, beautiful things that are still entrusted to our care. I am counting on you to be brave. I am counting on you to be useful. I am counting on you to keep the faith, and never give up—though the true radiance of our world may at times seem obscured, though we will suffer adversity and setbacks and misfortune—never, ever stop fighting for all that is good, and just, and decent about our world, and each other.”

Candor with allies and adversaries. McCain believed the dynamics of relations between nations are not so different than those between individuals. Regular communication and respectful candor is as much a prerequisite for maintaining strong and enduring relationships among allies as it is among friends and family. As heads of state and ministers across the globe can attest, McCain was nothing if not communicative and candid. And in dealing with foes, personal or geopolitical, he invested in the belief that straight talk reduces room for misunderstanding and miscalculation, while decreasing the opportunity for problems to fester.

Modernize our strategies, alliances and forms of global engagement. Times evolve rapidly, and along with them so do global threats, allies and adversaries. McCain spent a career trying to help the country stay on top of change, modernizing the United States’ capability to stay strong, safe, and able to advance the nation’s interests and values. But he also argued that 21st century security is not defined solely by military capabilities. Peace, stability, and winning the ideological war against autocracy demands we work to improve the quality of lives in vulnerable parts of the world. This requires engagement with a broader toolkit (both civilian and military), not the erection of physical walls and trade barriers behind which the United States retreats from the world, only to have the world come knocking at our door — or looking to kick it down.

Know your history. McCain came of age when mankind was forced to overcome the basest evil through enormous sacrifice, vigilance and determination. He was a child of the World War II generation that faced down global fascism. He served in the Cold War, both in uniform and in Congress, against a communist ideology that posed an existential threat to human liberty.

In the aftermath of war, hot and cold, American leaders established alliances and institutions to defend freedom and keep the peace, including by promoting human development. As a result, mankind has experienced exponential increases in prosperity and well-being. The further these conflicts fade into history, McCain feared, the greater the risk the lessons of history will be lost. If so, one fears that coming generations will be forced to relearn them at an unspeakable cost.

***

There is a virtue unaddressed above that I thought would be best saved for last because I think it may be the most powerful bequest: sincere gratitude. Next to love, it is the most redeeming of human emotions. Even in the final terribly challenging days of his life, McCain didn’t talk about personal hurts, regrets, or disappointments as so many people dwell on. By his own account, he was occupied with simple and genuine gratitude for the people, experiences and causes that have filled his meaningful life.

So, to a great man who tried to do something: Thank you.

5 years, 7 months, and 14 days. Aim High (Part 2)

[Pre-school education creates a gap between rich and poor children from which the latter cannot recover]

Limos and nannies drop off 3- and 4-year-olds every weekday morning at New York City’s most exclusive preschools. Tuition is more than $30,000 a year. The schools boast that young kids learn French, Chinese, violin, yoga and robotics — all before kindergarten.

Just a few subway stops away in the Bronx, home to one of America’s poorest congressional districts, there’s a very different morning drop-off routine going on. Many working parents leave their children with a relative or at the home of a lady down the street. They can’t afford formal preschool or day care, which now averages almost $10,000 a year, according to the Care Index.

Inequality in America is apparent by age 3: Most rich kids are in school, while most poor kids are not, according to a new book, “Cradle to Kindergarten: A New Plan to Combat Inequality.”

Only 55 percent of America’s 3 and 4-year-olds attend a formal preschool, a rate far below China, Germany and other power players on the global stage.

It’s a problem for the kids left behind — and for the U.S. economy. Companies are already complaining they can’t find enough skilled workers. It’s only expected to get worse if the United States doesn’t do a better job educating its youth.

“Early care and education in the United States is in a crisis,” education scholars Ajay Chaudry, Taryn Morrissey, Christina Weiland and Hirokazu Yoshikawa conclude in the book.

Parents who can’t afford preschool typically leave their kids with a grandparent or someone nearby. Some of these informal child-care providers do offer rigorous educational activities, but others just leave kids in front of the television. The quality is more haphazard, and there’s a higher risk the option won’t work out. The book chronicles the awful experience of one low-income family in New York City that had to make 25 different child-care arrangements for their daughter by her fifth birthday.

The inequality that begins before kindergarten lasts a lifetime. Children who don’t get formal schooling until kindergarten start off a year behind in math and verbal skills and they never catch up, according to the authors, who cite a growing body of research that’s been following children since the 1940s. In fact, the gap between rich and poor kids’ math and reading skills has been growing since the 1970s. The “left behind” kids are also more likely to end up in lower-paying jobs.

“The earliest years are the most promising for brain and skill development, yet it is when the U.S. invests the least,” says Yoshikawa, an education professor at New York University.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/09/26/by-age-3-inequality-is-clear-rich-kids-attend-school-poor-kids-stay-with-a-grandparent/ (emphasis added)

 

[Cognitive exposure and growth leads to larger brain in rich children]

Social scientists have found that by the time children enter kindergarten, there is already a large academic achievement gap between students from wealthy and poor families. We still don’t know exactly why that’s the case. There’s a sense that it at least partly has to do with the fact that affluent mothers and fathers have more intensive parenting styles—they’re more likely to read to their kids, for instance—and have enough money to make sure their toddlers grow up well-nourished, generally cared for, and intellectually stimulated. At the same time, poor children often grow up in chaotic, food-insecure, stressful homes that aren’t conducive to a developing mind.

A new study in the journal Nature Neuroscience adds an interesting biological twist to this issue. Using MRI scans of more than 1,000 subjects between the ages of 3 and 20, it finds that children with poor parents tend to have somewhat smaller brains, on some dimensions, than those who grow up affluent. Specifically, low-income participants had less surface area on their cerebral cortexes—the gray matter responsible for skills such as language, problem solving, and other higher-order functions we generally just think of as human intelligence. Poorer individuals in the study also fared worse on a battery of cognitive tests, and a statistical analysis suggested the disparities were related to brain dimensions. 

http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2015/04/17/family_income_and_brain_development_poor_children_have_less_surface_area.html (emphasis added)

 

[Good teachers out-teach bad teachers by as much as a year’s worth of material in one year]

One of the most important tools in contemporary educational research is “value added” analysis. It uses standardized test scores to look at how much the academic performance of students in a given teacher’s classroom changes between the beginning and the end of the school year. Suppose that Mrs. Brown and Mr. Smith both teach a classroom of third graders who score at the fiftieth percentile on math and reading tests on the first day of school, in September. When the students are retested, in June, Mrs. Brown’s class scores at the seventieth percentile, while Mr. Smith’s students have fallen to the fortieth percentile. That change in the students’ rankings, value-added theory says, is a meaningful indicator of how much more effective Mrs. Brown is as a teacher than Mr. Smith.

It’s only a crude measure, of course. A teacher is not solely responsible for how much is learned in a classroom, and not everything of value that a teacher imparts to his or her students can be captured on a standardized test. Nonetheless, if you follow Brown and Smith for three or four years, their effect on their students’ test scores starts to become predictable: with enough data, it is possible to identify who the very good teachers are and who the very poor teachers are. What’s more—and this is the finding that has galvanized the educational world—the difference between good teachers and poor teachers turns out to be vast.

Eric Hanushek, an economist at Stanford, estimates that the students of a very bad teacher will learn, on average, half a year’s worth of material in one school year. The students in the class of a very good teacher will learn a year and a half’s worth of material. That difference amounts to a year’s worth of learning in a single year. Teacher effects dwarf school effects: your child is actually better off in a “bad” school with an excellent teacher than in an excellent school with a bad teacher. Teacher effects are also much stronger than class-size effects. You’d have to cut the average class almost in half to get the same boost that you’d get if you switched from an average teacher to a teacher in the eighty-fifth percentile. And remember that a good teacher costs as much as an average one, whereas halving class size would require that you build twice as many classrooms and hire twice as many teachers.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/12/15/most-likely-to-succeed-malcolm-gladwell (emphasis added)

 

[Disadvantages faced by poor children hold them back]

Education is historically considered to be the thing that levels the playing field, capable of lifting up the less advantaged and improving their chances for success….

But a study published in June suggests that the things that really make the difference — between prison and college, success and failure, sometimes even life and death — are money and family.

Alexander is one of the authors of “The Long Shadow,” which explored this scenario: Take two kids of the same age who grew up in the same city — maybe even the same neighborhood. What factors will make the difference for each?

To find the answer, the Hopkins researchers undertook a massive study. They followed nearly 800 kids in Baltimore — from first grade until their late-20s.

They found that a child’s fate is in many ways fixed at birth — determined by family strength and the parents’ financial status.

The kids who got a better start — because their parents were married and working — ended up better off. Most of the poor kids from single-parent families stayed poor.

Just 33 children — out of nearly 800 — moved from the low-income to high-income bracket. And a similarly small number born into low-income families had college degrees by the time they turned 28.

https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2014/08/07/335285098/rich-kid-poor-kid-for-30-years-baltimore-study-tracked-who-gets-ahead (emphasis added)

 

My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

We last spoke of striving to be extraordinary — to make a difference — even the mundane.  Too many people oday simply care about nothing but themselves, their comfort, their entertainment, etc.  Be not like them.  Give a shit.  Help others.  Matter.

Today, let’s talk how best to position yourself so that you can maximize your efforts.  It doesn’t matter if you ultimately choose to devote yourselves to serving others one-on-one (retail) or as a group (wholesale).  The point is (1) to do something to help your world be a better place, and (2) to maximize your efforts.

(These points should be self-evident.  However, to make these points crystal clear, let me state them in the negative.  First, why wouldn’t you want to make your world a better place?  The state of nature leans towards disorder and decay.  For example, unless you mow your lawn, it would soon become a weed-filled jungle.  Unless you make efforts to clean up after yourselves, your neighborhoods, streets, and parks will be filled with trash and broken bottles.  Is that how you wish to live?  I assume not.  Second, why wouldn’t you want your efforts to be as effective and as efficient as possible?  If you’re going to spend the time and energy to do something, why would you not want to do your best to maximize the use of your time and energy to bring about the best outcome possible under the circumstances?  Only fools would wish otherwise.)

So, how do you best position yourself for success?  As evident from the above-referenced articles, numerous studies have shown the important roles family background and education play in preparing children for success.  Rich families, or those from families with means, expose their children at a VERY young age to music, art, vocabulary, information, and social and cultural experiences that help develop their young brains and give them a significant leg up on the road to success.  Poor children, or those from families with few means, are unable to provide give their children such opportunities.

This has devastating consequences which make it harder for children from poor families to succeed in life.  For example, children from poor or disadvantaged families have smaller brains than their affluent counterpart (see, e.g., http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2015/04/17/family_income_and_brain_development_poor_children_have_less_surface_area.html), have poorer vocabularies than their affluent counterparts (see e.g., https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201402/tackling-the-vocabulary-gap-between-rich-and-poor-children), and are much less likely to join the ranks of the affluent (see, e.g., https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2014/08/07/335285098/rich-kid-poor-kid-for-30-years-baltimore-study-tracked-who-gets-ahead).

While we were together, I have tried to expose you to as many diverse as well as culturally, socially, and academically meaningful experiences as possible.  We traveled far and wide.  We hiked and camped.  We attended musical events and theaters.  I paid nearly $1,000 per month for you, Jaialai, to attend an elite preschool where you were exposed to music and the arts as part of he curriculum.  Likewise, Shosh, I enrolled you in a private and well-regarded preschool program that required the parents (most of whom were doctors and lawyers) to volunteer and help out at least once every month.  Because of the adverse impact the death of your grandmother, who lived with us, and my divorce from your mother, I paid out of pocket for child therapy for you boys for more than a year so that these unfortunate events would not unduly encumber your growth and future.  (N.B.: despite my paying thousands of dollars out of pocket for your years-long therapy, your mother refused to pay $60 to meet with your child therapist to discuss how best to help you through the difficult circumstances — she claimed she had no money, yet bank records from the divorce showed she spent more than $900 a month on Starbucks coffee and eating out.  I met with your therapist weekly.  Your mother met with her only once.)  I wanted to give you a leg up in life, and made the necessary sacrifices to do so.

Unfortunately, fascist thugs interfered and have denied you the road I had planned for you.  But, all is not lost.  You have had the necessary head start during the developmental years.  Now, it is up to you to pursue that path while we’re apart.

Work hard to be accepted into magnet programs and accelerated classes in middle and high schools and to gain admission to top colleges so that you’d be surrounded by good teachers and good students.  As evident from the article above, good teachers are significantly more effective at expanding your minds and helping you learn.  Being around good students and students from good families establishes good behaviors and hard work as the norm.  You would then conform your behaviors to such norms and behave well, work hard, etc., as a result. On the flip side, if you were surrounded by kids who aspire for mediocrity — or worse  — that would be the new norm and you would race towards the bottom in your efforts to gain acceptance.  (Your cousin on your mother-side has a felony conviction because he hung out with the bad crowd while studying at a mediocre school.  On the other hand, your cousins on my side attends, or have attended, good schools, and those that have graduated have successful careers.)

Be self-disciplined.  Do your best always.  Don’t turn in shit-work.  If it’s worth doing, it is worth doing well.  I have seen too many wasted lives and lost opportunities simply because the people were unwilling to work hard.  Be not like them.

All my love, always,

Dad