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

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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.

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

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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

 

 

 

5 years, 7 months, and 11 days. Aim high (Part 1)

Do you know what scares the shit out of me, Kev?   It’s that [quitting] is easy.

 

Winners never quit and quitters never win. - Vince Lombardi

My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

I recently saw Bleed For This, a movie about the life of Vinny Paz, a boxer who suffered a serious back injury and was told he would not box again.  However, Vinny refused to give up his dream.  Through determination and effort, he came back from injury and won another title.

He reminded me of Bruce Lee, another pugilist who also seriously injured his back.  He, too, was told he’d never fight again.  He, too, by sheer determination, proved his doctors wrong.

Winners do not quit when things are not going their way.  Quitting is easy.  Quitting is ALWAYS easy.  Forging on when it’s difficult is what separates the winners from everyone else.  Make that effort, my sons.  Be winners.

Don’t aspire for mediocrity.  The world is already overflowing with the mediocre.  There is nothing wrong with being average or ordinary.  By definition, a large percentage of the people must hold down that position so that some could be below average while others be above average.  Aim for the latter.

Be exceptional.  The world needs more of those, especially during these trying times.  We have global refugee crises, heretofore unexperienced weather calamities (see., e.g., https://www.forbes.com/sites/trevornace/2018/08/22/watch-as-the-arctics-strongest-sea-ice-break-up-for-the-first-time-in-record/), political instability in many corners of the world, cultural decay at home and abroad, raw hatred unbridled by civility and common decency, etc.  What we need now, more than ever, are not the ordinary and the uninspired, who would happily sit out the game as spectators, but the extraordinary, who would willingly to help resolve the challenges of today.

Let me be clear: I am speaking of ordinary people who do extraordinary things and not of the superstars and the geniuses among us.  Rosa Park is but one of many examples of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.  Others include the teacher who switched from teaching at private schools, where wealthy students receive more than the help they need, to an impacted public school, where children under-perform because many of their basic needs go unmet; the child who sold lemonade to raise funds for a poor family; the man who volunteered to build homes for those in need; the woman who made sandwiches to feed the hungry; etc.  What makes them extraordinary is their willingness to not give up in the face of overwhelming odds against success.  How does one sandwich help solve world hunger?  It helps resolve the hunger pang of that one child to whom the sandwich was given, and that is a start.

https://shoshandjaialai.files.wordpress.com/2018/08/dc36a-how_do_you_eat_an_elephant.png?w=656

(N.B.: don’t eat elephants.)

Be the change you want in the world.  Aim high and surround yourselves with friends who will inspire you to be better.

Noblesse oblige may have fallen out of favor these day, but practice it anyway: be your best, make the best use of the gifts God gave you, and help those not as fortunate. I promise this will give you more fulfilling lives than those who pray at the altar of the money gods and who occupy themselves with the latest in technologies, fashion, etc., to conceal the emptiness that lies within themselves.

https://thayvabiet.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/the-purpose-of-life-is-not-to-be-happy-it-is-to-be-useful-to-be-honorable-to-be-compassionate-to-have-it-make-some-dif.jpg?w=656

https://i.pinimg.com/736x/da/78/32/da7832b904a8707dd7b944d4723b5f7c--george-lucas-quotes-helping-others-quotes.jpg

https://howtobehappy.guru/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/3e.png

All my love, always,

Dad

5 years, 3 months, and 8 days. Make a good first impression: be well-informed.

https://i.pinimg.com/originals/8d/3d/f5/8d3df5811f95ef9b368922c04aaae691.jpg

https://shoshandjaialai.files.wordpress.com/2018/04/facb2-32bfactors.jpg?w=656

https://i1.wp.com/goldprsocialmedia.com/invisalign/print/invisalign_infographic_1.3.jpg

A Harvard study revealed that it typically takes eight subsequent positive encounters to change another person’s negative opinion of you.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/work-in-progress/2015/02/10/the-do-over-how-to-correct-a-bad-first-impression/#3dece3f055f6

 

 

Recognize that changing someone’s perception will take time. As stated earlier, no matter who you are, you will inevitably make a less than positive impression on someone. While some have suggested that it can take months or even years to erase a bad first impression, a Harvard study suggests that it will take eight subsequent positive encounters to change that person’s negative opinion of you. In this context be persistent and patient.

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140424005629-3411076-how-to-overcome-making-a-bad-first-impression

 

My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

People are often full of shit.  Many will bluster or drone on and on about that which they know little.  They may cite one study or one source to validate their point.  Be not like them.

Be well-informed.  Read voraciously.  Read from diverse sources from different continents to combat biases and to gain greater perspective.  Think deeply and critically about what you read, see, and hear.  Never swallow wholesale what someone pitches; everyone has his/her biases.  Figure why they’re saying what they’re saying (e.g., are they paid to say it?), what they are omitting, what their assumptions are, etc.

One of my favorite dialogues are from the movie, The Negotiator, with Samuel Jackson and Kevin Spacey:

Now you're a history buff?
                 
I generally read histories and biographies.       

Don't believe everything you read.              

I didn't say I read just one book.                

I try to read all books on a subject.  You know, try to get all the facts...                

...and then decide for myself what really happened.

http://www.script-o-rama.com/movie_scripts/n/negotiator-script-transcript-kevin-spacey.html (emphasis added)

Too many people are careless with their reputation.  They say or repeat nonsense and expect there to be few consequences for spouting crap.  They are wrong.  People of caliber notice.  They, then, give wide berth to the uninformed for, except as sheep and mindless consumers, not much good come of being uninformed.

Remember, everything we say and do reflect well or poorly on us, as individuals.  Everything about us communicates something about ourselves.  Thus, strive to make a great impression.  Speak well.  Be thoughtful.  Be well-mannered.  Exude confidence.

Bad first impressions are extremely difficult to correct: people rarely give you eight chances to counteract that one bad first impression.  Their impression of you will color their view of all you do.  If they think you are smart, they will pass off a mistake as a one-off event and not let that affect their judgment of you.  Conversely, if they think you are an idiot, they will think something you did well is but a fluke and you remain an idiot.

Life is hard enough as it is.  Why would you choose to make it harder on yourselves by giving bad first impressions?  Don’t do it.

Be well-read, thoughtful, well-mannered, and kind.  Make a great first impression.

All my love, always,

Dad

P.S., all is not lost if you made a bad first impression.  It just means you have a lot of hard work ahead of you to correct it.

The Do-Over: How To Correct A Bad First Impression

 Last year I wrote about the nature of first impressions. We’re continually told of the importance of making positive first impressions, especially given how quickly we determine them. Some research suggests that first impressions can be so powerful that they’re weighed more heavily than fact. We know that making a good first impression is critical to success in both our jobs and personal lives, but the fact is that sometimes we flub them. Whether because of pressure, nervousness, a wrong approach, or distraction, we don’t always show up the way we intended.

The question then becomes, how do we correct a bad first impression?

Here’s the good news: impressions evolve over time. You may not get a second chance to make a first impression, but you can create an opportunity to correct one. Here are five ways to do so:

Realize that an initial impression is just that – a beginning.

We’ve all changed our opinion about someone the longer we’ve known them. Consider a colleague that you initially thought was standoffish, but after sharing a project realized was someone who just took a while to warm up.

If we look at first impressions as make-or-break opportunities, then it’s easy to make excuses for not trying to correct them. Instead, consider that impressions continuously evolve with multiple touch points. If you want someone to get to know the real you, then put yourself in front of them. Ask the person to lunch or volunteer to help them. By witnessing your skills and personality over a longer period of time, their perception of you can grow.

 Remember that repeated, small interactions build trust fastest.

A Harvard study revealed that it typically takes eight subsequent positive encounters to change another person’s negative opinion of you. So be persistent and play the long game.

Further, small, predictable interactions increase trust greater than a one-time splashy event. Take the pressure off yourself to knock someone’s socks off, and instead focus on demonstrating your value over an extended period of time. Strive to be consistent, follow up, and follow through.

Ask for a chance to correct.

Being straightforward can help minimize misunderstandings and reframe the discussion. Consider simply saying, “I feel like we got off on the wrong foot. Can I take you to lunch?”

Honesty can be a game changer in any relationship and goes a long way toward changing someone’s perspective. If you feel that there’s a failure to connect interpersonally, provide your view of the situation and then vet it with the other person. Admit what caused your behavior that may have led to a wrong impression. If you have a family issue that caused you to be disengaged during a meeting, then say so. If the other party is as open minded as most people hope to be (more on this next), then they should give you the benefit of the doubt.

Remind the other person how open-minded he or she is.

Many people have what psychologists call an egalitarian goal, which means that they work hard to be open minded and fair in their interactions with others. Research shows that when you remind someone of their fairness, they will more conscientiously work to live up to that assessment.

Practically speaking, this means that after a less than stellar first interaction, you can send a follow up email and compliment the other person on their open mindedness or fairness in evaluating people. Or recognize how their perspicacity must be a real asset in their job. Reminding the other person of their egalitarian goal will help them remember to be more open minded in their perceptions of you.

Ask them for advice – on anything.

According to Wharton School professor Adam Grant, asking for advice is a smart way to be influential. Grant discusses one study in which researchers asked people to negotiate the possible sale of commercial property. When the sellers asked the buyers for advice on how to meet their goals, 42% were able to come to an agreement that made both sides happy.

“Asking for advice encouraged greater cooperation and information sharing, turning a potentially contentious negotiation into a win-win deal. Studies demonstrate that across the manufacturing, financial services, insurance and pharmaceuticals industries, seeking advice is among the most effective ways to influence peers, superiors, and subordinates,” Grant writes.

If you feel that you didn’t make a positive impression, follow up and ask the other person for advice on some aspect of work. This also allows you to get in front of the person again and make a new impression. Psychologist Robert Cialdini says that by asking for advice, you suddenly “have the basis of an interaction.” Advice can always be returned, as can a thank you.

Comment here or @kristihedges.

Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of The Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others. She blogs at kristihedges.com.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/work-in-progress/2015/02/10/the-do-over-how-to-correct-a-bad-first-impression/3/#7bbbb0f874de

 

5 years, and 3 months. You can do well by doing good. Strive to do good well.

https://i.pinimg.com/736x/fa/d2/fe/fad2fe0a900c2a8167c7a04947b9f150.jpg

https://positivethesaurus.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/john-adams-positive-presidential-quotes-to-be-good.jpg

https://i0.wp.com/blog.wcwpartners.com/wp-content/uploads/LeaderQuote.jpg

My dearest and most precious sons, Shosh and Jailai:

You often hear it said that the good guy always loses.  I beg to differ.

Although the bad guy — who is willing to lie, cheat, and steal — may get ahead in the short run by skirting the law and morality, he/she loses in the long run.  First, note recent reports of the downfall of the mighty, e.g., Samsung’s chief and heir face prison time for their corrupt practices, a former president of South Korea has been sentenced to 24 years in prison for corruption, and a former president of Brazil has been sentence to 12 years in prison for corruption.  Crime catches up with you partly because you make enemies.  That leads to my second point: bad guys live in constant fear of being exposed or on the receiving end of their misdeeds.  A thief, for example, fears being discovered and thinks everyone is out to get him.  Thus, he must constantly be on guard and trusts few .  Is that a good way to live?  Are those the makings of a good life?  No.

You can do well by doing good in the world, by helping to make the world a better place.  For example, at a time when computing was limited to the few, Steve Job envisioned a world where there is a computer in every home and that technology is accessible to all.  As a result of his efforts, most homes today have one or more computers.  At the time of his death, Mr. Job’s net worth was $10.2 billion.  https://www.investopedia.com/university/steve-jobs-biography/steve-jobs-net-worth.asp.  He did well by doing good, wouldn’t you say?  (Now, reports are that Steve Job is not the easiest man to get along with and has his own issues.  But, who among us is perfect?  Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.  Acknowledge his contributions to the world, but hold him accountable for his less stellar aspects as appropriate.)

https://i2.wp.com/www.quotehd.com/imagequotes/authors1/ralph-waldo-emerson-poet-doing-well-is-the-result-of-doing-good-thats-what-capitalism.jpg

https://i1.wp.com/m.likesuccess.com/quotes/18/872246.png

https://i0.wp.com/img.picturequotes.com/2/21/20532/if-a-jobs-worth-doing-its-worth-doing-well-quote-1.jpg

The undergirding of today’s lesson is the same fundamental lessons I’ve always harped on:  be you but be the best you can be, and try to leave your corner of the world a little bit better than when you first found it.  I leave you with another wise word from one of my favorite people.

https://i.pinimg.com/736x/d5/18/3b/d5183b71ded68d0fad10373cfc36bfea.jpg

Go forth, do good, and do well.  Live a purposeful life.  Happiness lies therein.

All my love, always,

Dad

5 years, 2 months, and 26 days. Find joy. Cherish and be grateful for those joyous moments.

https://shoshandjaialai.files.wordpress.com/2018/04/63fdf-sunrise2bin2bmountain2bnature2bwallpaper.jpg?w=1415&h=943

https://i2.wp.com/drivenoutside.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/lawn.jpg

https://i0.wp.com/www.anywherethatswild.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/P10308461.jpg

My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

Life is tough.  There is no getting around that.  Anyone who thinks otherwise is deluding him- or herself.  Life’s challenges worm their way into everyone’s life.

Thus, find joy where ever you may.  The smell of the first rainfall on parched earth.  Sunrise.  Freshly cut grass.  How your little hand felt in mine when we went for walks back then.  The sound of your laughter.  That mischievous glint in your eye.  The feel of waves.  The beach.  Sand.  A smile.  Hummingbirds.  A cool breeze.  Heat.  Salty butter on crunchy baguette.  The smell of coffee.  Home.

Be present, immerse yourselves in the joyous experience, and be grateful for them.  Don’t let the travails of life detract from its beauty. Hold on to the good and beautiful.  Be present, but revisit these moments of beauty as necessary to keep your spirits up.  Remember, self-care is critical.  Live to fight another day.

Life is what you make of it.  If you focus on the negative, then life will be the shits.  Why would you want to do that to yourself.  Feed the positive and work towards the possible.  Whatever challenges currently plaguing you will pass.  Don’t let it consume you.  Where’s the joy in that?

Make your life a testament to its beauty.  Let it be a symbol of hope for those without.  But, more importantly, immerse yourselves in that which is beautiful and joyous so that YOUR LIFE WILL BE BEAUTIFUL AND JOYOUS.  That is my wish for you, my sons.  Enjoy life regardless of the bitter cup presently set upon your lips.  This too will pass.

https://i.pinimg.com/originals/24/e3/07/24e3073f9d7b9ed160ffaa8a3ea0d2c3.jpg

All my love, always,

Dad