Thoughts on Jefe’s Death

Friday, April 12, 2019
Delray Beach, FL.- I wrote about the death of our dog Jefe (left)

last week. I said that he gave us so many gifts – so many moments of laughter and love – during his lifetime. Thinking about it since then, it occurred to me that pets like Jefe provide us with another sort of gift, an existential gift.

Dogs have a relatively short lifespan – typically 8 to 15 years. That’s enough time for us to see them grow from puppies into adults and then into those frail years. It’s also enough time for us to learn to love them. Sometimes very deeply. But then they die and we have to deal with the grief of losing them. It’s painful, but we go through it and we move on.

We’re likely to experience the death of half a dozen pets before we are middle-aged. That’s half a dozen opportunities that our beloved pets give us to practice the grieving and recovery process – to prepare us for what we will one day have to go through with the humans we love and have loved for the longer length of human life.

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Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Delray Beach, FL.-

My little old dog: A heart-beat at my feet.” – Edith Wharton

When we entered the butterfly pavilion, the manager approached us and said, “I’m sorry, but we don’t allow dogs in here.”

“He’s a service dog,” Michael said, pulling out Jefe’s certificate. “You have to let him in.”

“Please understand. The pavilion is full of butterflies and small birds. It is simply too much for dogs. They can’t contain themselves. If you could leave him here, we’ll look after him.”

“He’s certified for birds and butterflies,” Michael said.

I frowned at him as if to say, “You’re overdoing it.”

The manager reluctantly let Jefe pass. But we were followed by a half-dozen staff members ready to jump in when the inevitable melee occurred.

Jefe isn’t really a service dog. His certificate was bought online. But he has always been an amazingly sensible and good-natured animal. We spent a half-hour walking through the pavilion, and throughout he had no fewer than a dozen butterflies on his back and a bird or two for good measure. Not only did he not react, he hardly seemed to notice them. And when we exited, the manager rushed towards us and said, “Oh my lord. He is trained for birds and butterflies!”

Jefe was born in Nicaragua. We bought him as a puppy and kept him there as our Nicaraguan dog. But in Nicaragua, dogs do not have the same importance as they have in America. The people that cared for our house so well cared little for Jefe. After seeing the shape he was in when we came back after having been away for a while, Michael decided to adopt him and bring him back to the States. In the USA, Jefe had a life his fellow Nica dogs could not even imagine. The first week he was in Florida, he had a complete makeover – not only lavish scented baths, a haircut, and a pedicure, but an aromatherapy session and some sort of doggie counseling to boot.

He was, in Michael’s words, the best dog in the world. He was intelligent, responsive, obedient, and kind. He was also playful – as playful as you would want a dog to be. As Samuel Butler said, “The great pleasure of a dog is that you may make a fool of yourself with him and not only will he not scold you, but he will make a fool of himself too.”

As I’m writing this, Jefe is resting in his home in Baltimore with his mistress Maggie, and Michael, his master, is flying home to be with him. He is scheduled to be at the veterinarian tomorrow. His last visit. After 13 years of being a remarkable being on this overpopulated planet, he will breathe his last breath.

Michael and Maggie are crying a lot. Kathy and I cried a bit tonight as well. But I like to remind myself that Jefe lived a long life – more than 80 years in dog time. And he lived the sort of life that we proud humans only hope to live. He had no ambitions other than to enjoy the moments that were given to him. He welcomed the new ones with excited anticipation. He endured the difficult ones with admirable patience. He forgave each and every hurt accidentally put to him. And most importantly, he was always present in those moments, which means that he had millions more of them than you or I.

Jefe will go down tomorrow gently, as he lived. He will not rage against the dying of the light. In going, he will give us the last of countless gifts he has given us along his way.

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Monday, April 1, 2019

Delray Beach, FL.- I’m happy to report that I’ve been contacted by a senior curator at the Smithsonian, who has informed me that they want to put all my published works into the institution, seal them in a vault, and make them available only to scholars in the future, but not to the public. They believe my wealth building writings are too powerful to be disseminated freely. I will update you as this develops.

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How Many Laws Do We Really Need?

Friday, March 29, 2019

Rancho Santana, Nicaragua.-From Capitol Report: “Despite the slow start while new legislators learned their way around the capitol, over 3,400 bills have been filed by the 2019 deadline that could change state laws in the two months of Florida’s Legislative Session.”

Think about that. Thirty-four hundred bills in two months in one state.

How is that even possible?

We hear frequently from conservatives that our federal and local governments are over-regulating everything. I always took that to mean that they were passing laws that put restraints on free enterprise. But 3,400 bills in two months? That’s way beyond restraining free enterprise. I can’t even imagine how many areas of our lives it takes to accommodate so many bills.

How many people do you need to think up and write 3,400 bills? Not to mention the people you need to do the research and file the documents and circulate copies and so on. Then there is another level of “workers” — journalists, lobbyists, and government watchdogs — who spend their time reading and reporting on those bills.

I asked Alex, our research associate, to find some facts about the growth of government bureaucracy in the USA. Here are some good ones:

  1. More Americans are employed by the government than by the country’s entire manufacturing sector.
  2. The federal government indirectly employs an additional 12 million people, more than any other governmental agency or enterprise in the world.
  3. Every year, the government spends $279 billion on federal employee salaries – and that number continues to grow.
  4.  Since inception, the federal bureaucracy has quintupled in size, now housing more than 2,300 subsidiary programs, administrations, and departments.
  5. When federal laws were first organized in 1927, they fit into a single volume. By the 1980s, they filled 50 volumes of more than 23,000 pages.

How many laws do we really need?

At one time, it was believed that 10 were enough. Now there are so many it’s impossible to get a reliable count. And if you had one, it would be grossly outdated in a week’s time.

If there’s a silver lining to all this, I’d like to see it.

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Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think 

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Rancho Santana, Nicaragua

Answer these 4 questions:

  1. In all low-income countries in the world today, how many girls finish high school?

a.- 20%

b.- 40%

c.- 60%

  1. In the last 20 years, the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty has…

a.- Almost doubled

b.- Remained more or less the same

c.- Almost halved

  1. How many of the world’s one-year-old children have been vaccinated against some disease?

a.- 20%

b.- 50%

c.- 80%

  1. Which geographical regions have the highest incidence of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer?

a.- Those that have lots of sunlight

b.- Those that have moderate sunlight

c.- Those that have little sunlight

Someone left a copy of Factfulness by Hans Rosling in my office for me. I don’t know who it was, but I’m grateful.

It’s a book about a surprising problem: the enormous amount of ignorance about the answers to some very important questions. As Rosling points out, many of the “facts” that we accept as true and indisputable turn out to be false. And this is not a function of education. College grads prove themselves to be as ignorant as high school dropouts. In fact, monkeys do a better job of getting most of these important answers right. (I’m not kidding. Rosling has convincing evidence.)

I came upon this phenomenon about 15 years ago. Back then, you may remember, people were convinced that sun exposure was the cause of skin cancer and were doing everything they could to keep themselves and their children away from its rays. This didn’t make sense to me. The sun, after all, is the primary source of life. And as many studies have since proven, I was right to be skeptical. We now know that a healthy amount of sunlight each day promotes Vitamin D (more a hormone than a vitamin). And that wards off not only skin cancer but just about every other inflammation-related disease. (And, yes, geographical regions that get lots of sunlight have the lowest incidence of melanoma.)

Answers to the 4 questions, above:

  1. c
  2. c
  3. c
  4. c
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What Do You Think? What Would You Do?

Monday, March 25, 2019

Rancho Santana, Nicaragua. So Mike Weirsky,  divorced and for 15 years unemployed, wins the $273 million Mega Millions jackpot. And the first thing he does is buy a Ford Raptor.

But how much is he going to pay the person that found his ticket and selflessly and heroically turned it in to the store so Weirsky could claim it?

And why did Weirsky leave it in the store? Because he “was distracted by a phone call.”

Had the person not turned in the ticket, Weirsky would have been out of luck. “I was just very happy that there was an honest person out there, because I figured it was gone,” he said at a press conference.

“I’m looking for the guy that handed it in and I want to thank him,” he said. “I’m going to give him something, but I’m going to keep that private.”

Get this: “The guy,” had he kept the ticket, would have been able to claim the $273 million himself.

So what should he be given by Weirsky?

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10 Things I Would Like to Become…

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Delray Beach, FL.- 

  1. A better teacher
  • My strengths are insight and caring. I need to be better at giving examples. 
  1. A more articulate arguer
  • I like to argue. I’m always surprised that I’m not very good at it. The problem is that I don’t have my arguments worked out. I don’t have a bank of facts to support my positions. And that’s because I am not in the habit of remembering facts. My habit is to remember my conclusions. (Because I think my interest in learning is philosophical, not rhetorical.) I have to identify my key positions and memorize supporting facts. I have to become a quicker learner. 
  1. A subtler writer
  • I’ve always wanted to be both a writer and also a teacher. My teaching desire penetrates my writing style. I tend to over-explain, which is sometime forgivable in essays and non-fiction books but is deadly in fiction. It makes me realize that my desire to be a good teacher – to have my student understand – is actually stronger than my desire to be a good teacher. I treat my readers like students. I’m more concerned that they get the point than that they enjoy the story.
  1. Less sensitive to criticism
  • I’m generally good at criticism because I’m generally comfortable being less than great at almost everything I do. But I could be better when it comes to criticism of my character. I’m sensitive to that – perhaps because I’m not as good a person as I’d like to be.
  1. More accepting of other views on social and political issues
  • Conservatives think leftists have no brains. Leftists think conservatives have no heart. I agree with both of them. And I let this infect my feelings. I actually get angry. Even at friends and family members.
  1. More aware of my surroundings
  • When you are as practiced in the art of self-absorption as I am, you have little attention left to give to your surroundings. I believe that living in the here and nowwill improve my experience of life. But I can’t get out of my head.
  1. Less conscious of my approaching death
  • When you reach a certain age, the mantle of death looms. That’s not a good thing for several reasons, not the least of which it makes you more self-absorbed. (See #6.) I’ve got to get out from underneath it.
  1. Kinder
  • There is a sign at a fork in the road that one comes to later in life. It appears every time you wake up and a dozen times during the day. One arrow points to Good Humor. The other to Grouchiness. I am well aware that I should walk in the direction of Good Humor. But Grouchiness beckons. 
  1. More stoic
  • When someone asks me how I’m doing these days, I answer, “No complaints.” I do that not because I’m feeling good, but because I realize that complaining about whatever ails me will do neither the questioner nor I any good. This is one small area in life where I’ve learned to be more stoic. I’d like to expand the range of my stoicism.
  1. Thinner
  • There’s no point in denying it. I cannot delude myself any longer with clichés like, “I have to love me as I am.” Thinner is better.
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Talking Business With Academics

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Delray Beach, FL.- CJ, my partner in the effort to free wrongly convicted felons, and I had a meeting today with a California college that has offered to help us by providing student interns from its Law and Criminal Justice departments.

There were about eight people at the video conference. Although I had been told that the meeting would be about the prospect of doing a documentary on the project, I quickly discovered that nobody quite knew what we were going to talk about. I felt the need to get things moving, and respectfully suggested that we define our objective and set a time (30 minutes) for ending the meeting. This had an immediately positive effect.

Aside from unofficially leading the agenda, I realized that I had to do something else: I had to sell everyone on the value of contributing their time and effort to this cause. So I did my elevator pitch. I explained that if we found the right candidate, someone that had been falsely convicted for a capital offense, it would provide the school with a community-related and altruistic mission that it could publicize. And it would provide its students with lots of interesting and challenging work.

Everyone expressed excitement at the vision. But then came the hard part.

In a business environment, once the vision is adopted, decisions about who does what are relatively easy. Each person is usually happy to play his part because the goal is exciting and because the payoff is in profits and bonuses. (Which is something everyone can understand.)

But in an academic environment, taking on responsibility for a project is a more complicated affair. One big difference is that academia doesn’t view revenue growth and profit as clear and comprehensible goals. What is good for the president (good will and endowments) isn’t necessarily good for the head of the Law Department (who may be thinking about his standing in the legal community) or the associate professor in Criminology (who may be thinking about what he needs to get tenure).

So I did my best to address these interests indirectly. (It’s not a good idea to be blunt when talking about ulterior motives.) And by the end of the half-hour, I felt like we were all moving in the same direction.

The next step is for CJ to turn over files on our top candidates to the law professors and have them opine on which cases have the best chance of success.

I realize that making this work is going to take much more than simply my willingness to pay for everything. I’m going to have to make it work for everyone involved. And that, of course, must include the exoneration of one wrongly convicted person.

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Why I Can’t Read The New York Times Anymore

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Delray Beach, FL.- First I read The New York Times because I believed it was the best newspaper in the world. Then, after my view of economics shifted, I read it for its cultural and literary articles. Now I can’t stand to read even those sections, as the NYT’s smart, independent critics have been replaced by very bad writers with very stupid ideas about – everything.

Take the paper’s coverage of the Academy Awards. The NYT’s film critics were upset because Green Book beat out Black Panther for Best Picture. The rationale: Black Panther was a huge box office hit. Green Book was Driving Miss Daisy II, simply another feel-good movie where two people, black and white, gradually discover their common humanity.

Never mind that Black Panther was a comic book movie with an immensely simplistic moral message, banal dialogue, a predictable plot, and nothing-special effects.

Another example: a review of a memoir about the author’s escape from poverty-stricken Appalachia. It wasn’t actually a book review at all. It was a compilation of complaints about the book’s depiction of and commentary on Appalachian culture.

According to the critic, the author had the audacity to suggest that one of the reasons Appalachians have remained ignorant and poor is because of bad habits like dropping out of school, drinking and doing drugs, teenage motherhood, and a preference for government handouts instead of working. Not only that, the author dared to suggest that the plight of these people is their own fault! (I don’t have the article in front of me, but those are nearly the critic’s exact words.)

Meanwhile, the critic has never set foot in Appalachia. But the author of the memoir lived there. Details like that, of course, don’t matter when it comes to politics. Any idea not coincidental with leftist ideology is bad art.

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A Dinner With the Japanese -What We Don’t Know About Culture Matters

Friday, March 1, 2019

Delray Beach, FL.- I’d wanted to have a publishing partner in Japan since we went global 20 years ago. I’d gotten close once, with the country’s largest health publisher. But after several meetings and a trip there to meet the president, they demurred. I never understood why. And they didn’t explain. My liaison told me it would be impolite to ask. I should have.

So the dinner last week was important. I had been courting this company for more than a year.

I knew that they would be good partners for us. (They were marketing directly, online, so they had the knowledge and the resources to market subscription services.) I had to persuade them that we we’d be good partners for them.

After an initial meeting in Delray Beach and a lot of follow-up by our team, a rough joint venture agreement had been worked out. They were now in Baltimore to seal the deal. We were going to give them a tour of our offices, have them attend a company-only marketing conference, and then host a final dinner. I wanted that dinner to go well.

It was scheduled for 6:30 at The Maryland Club, a private membership facility housed in an old mansion, one of several in the city. I got there early and chatted with our CFO while waiting. Our team arrived a few minutes later. And the Japanese delegation – the founder, whom I’d met twice before, two of his top execs, and a translator – arrived on time.

The agenda, arranged by our global CEO, began with a half-hour of cocktail conversation, presumably to warm everyone up. Their founder asked for club soda. I asked him about that. I don’t know why. He said alcohol didn’t “agree with him.”

“Well,” I thought, “it agrees with me.” So I had tequila.

Our team had sort of sequestered themselves, so I ended up taking on the burden of cocktail talk solo. I wanted the Japanese to feel comfortable, so I did what I would do with Americans. I told them self-deprecatory stories. They seemed to understand the message, but I didn’t feel any warming up going on.

I was not exactly surprised. I had learned long ago that my very American style of communication isn’t always appreciated. Japanese culture, in particular, is very different from ours. For one thing, the Japanese are generally more reserved than we like to be. My frankness – I could feel – was a bit too much for them. They responded courteously, but with some emotional distance. I felt like I might be getting myself into trouble.

Then it was time for dinner. My colleagues seated themselves at one end of the table, so, once again, the burden of the cross-cultural conversation was on me. As it happened, I had been reading a book about cross-cultural differences: The Culture Map. (See “What I’m Reading,” below.) And so, for lack of anything else to talk about, I spoke about the book.

One of the book’s primary theses is that communication patterns differ in every culture in terms of how direct or indirect meanings are expressed. High context cultures (of which Japan is an example) favor formality and subtlety. They don’t like bluntness. They find it rude. Low context cultures prefer frank and direct conversations.

Not surprisingly, the book argues that US culture is low context. We like to get to the point as fast as we can, express it clearly, and then memorialize it so there are no misunderstandings afterwards.

But this sort of expression can feel rude to people from high context cultures. Bluntness is not at all a virtue. Getting to the point is unnecessary. It insults the intelligence of your interlocutor. You should give him the credit of being able to understand your subtlest comments. You should have faith that he understands what you mean.

As I said, I was not unaware of this before I began reading The Culture Map. After 20 years of doing business with a dozen different cultural groups, I knew that I needed to restrain my impulse for directness with my Japanese guests. But because I was anxious, my instincts overwhelmed me.

The more politely they responded to me, the more frank I was in making comments that were either self-deprecatory or complimentary to them. I even told them that I thought the Japanese culture was superior to ours, which is something I have long believed. But even as I said it, I felt I was missing the mark.

When my colleagues at the other end of the table joined in conversation, they were even blunter than I had been. In an effort at familiarity, one of our top execs began kidding one of their top people about hearing that he was a playboy. It was (to me) an obvious attempt to have a little lighthearted fun with them. But I knew it was a mistake. I doubled down on my compliments.

Remarkably, the dinner ended gracefully. Three of their people even asked to have photos taken with me. But not the founder. He stood there with a polite smile on his face.

I went home wondering if our American frankness had completely turned him off. I wished our team had taken the time to talk about our cultural differences before we’d scheduled that dinner.

I’m going to ask my colleagues to read The Culture Map. And I’m going to keep my fingers crossed. This is a relationship I don’t want to lose.

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