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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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Be better, my sons.  Be better.

All my love, always,

Dad

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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.

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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.

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, 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