Global Thoughts — 3 May 2016 including Lessons Learned at Age 50

In our Purim costumes for Papa's 80th Birthday party
In our Purim costumes for Papa’s 80th Birthday party

Last week I celebrated my 50th birthday. My mom stood up and said a few nice things about me and my parents gave me a fancy watch. My kids wrote me beautiful cards and we went out to dinner. Karen and I look forward to the future as I enter my Jubilee Year. A few days ago, I walked down the street in Miami Beach and saw a poster on a bus stop about a convention center hotel proposal in the same spot as I saw it almost 40 years ago. They never did anything on that land in all these years. Sort of like the street on Main Street in Back to the Future with the signs promising Progress if you vote for the guy running for mayor. And you just know that 50 years from now the world will not change all that much, we probably won’t all be under water like they say we might, and people will be talking and worrying about the same old things.

This past month I honored my father who turned 80, and at least at 50 you still look forward to the future. At 80, I think you look backward with more gusto than forward. My father has had an interesting life; I commissioned a film about him which was supposed to be 8-10 minutes and turned out to be 26. At his party, even the catering people sat down to watch it. They liked that it was honest; it wasn’t a drumbeat of how he went from success to success but rather how he made lemons from lemonade and what he learned from his failures and life experiences. By the age of 50, my father had already been twice elected and served as mayor of Miami Beach. My life has not followed that track; my life has been much more private with no obvious success, but I have no regrets about the past because I too have made lemonade out of lemons in my own right and have my own personal standards and views of what is the meaning of things. When I go to my law school reunions every 5 years, I feel that I am probably having more fun in my life than almost everyone else in the room, so I understand that blessings in life are not always obvious and that the way we keep score is not often the true accounting of happiness.

Science Fair at School
Science Fair at School
School Family Heritage Fair
School Family Heritage Fair

So where am I after 50 years? Well, I’ve visited about 100 countries and there are not many more that I am curious to see. At this point, the fun is in seeing them again for the first time through the eyes of my kids. I’ve given away the vast majority of my clothes and I still have a flip phone and don’t have a Facebook or a Linked in account (although I do have Facebook stock). I’m eating a lot fewer treats and sweets and sometimes feel like a person on a spa diet, although I do feel better. And I would say that I’ve learned to breathe better, and to know that keeping calm and focused enhances performance. And that most foods actually don’t taste bad once you get used to them, and that many things you thought as a kid you couldn’t do didn’t mean you couldn’t do them but rather that you probably hadn’t found the right person to teach you how to do them. I’ve learned that the people you invited to your wedding are often people you don’t continue to communicate with after you’ve married. I’ve learned not to be disappointed by people who can’t think past their next paycheck, and that if people were really as smart as they should be to do what they do, many of them wouldn’t be in the jobs they were doing. A lot of knowledge you could have used was told to you when you were younger but it’s wasted on the young who are not ready to accept it. These things might sound trite but it has taken me most of my life to come to these realizations. My daughter has these mindfulness sessions at school; before Passover they spent a full session eating rice crackers and horseradish and thinking about it. She thinks those sessions are ridiculous and maybe they are, but there is something to it and it’s not something you appreciate at 10 but might at 50. Consider that if I would have substituted wine tasting class it wouldn’t sound so silly. With all this together, I feel a lot more confident and able at 50 than I did at 20. My priority is my family; my kids have made a lot of progress at this point and I feel proud to have been there for them and to know that to them I make a profound difference. Five or six years ago, my son Jeremy couldn’t even sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star into a microphone at home and could just make out the “th” sound over and over. This past week, now age 8, he got up in front of our family at the Passover Seder and said something that made total sense in both English and Hebrew with seriousness of purpose and answered some questions posed around the table. It was a very proud moment for Karen and myself, particularly since he does not attend a Jewish day school (and particularly since someone there asked if he were attending the top Jewish school in the city). A lot of work over the past 5-6 years went into making those two or three moments happen (and we and his school still have a lot of work to do). My mother said that in watching Jeremy speak at the Seder she saw the spitting image of myself doing the same thing when I was his age. At least now we have enough sense to make video recordings of these things (albeit a few days later because we can’t use a video recorder at a seder) so that someday he can watch himself as he was.

For years I’ve saved a few bins of everything I did during my first 50 years and I call it my “hall of treasures.” I’ve been saving it to sometime show it to my kids who are now probably old enough to look at it. I’m sure they will think most of it is stupid, but now I can show them what my third grade project about my first visit to Washington DC was like. The full cycle has come. For me, my most creative years were high school and college. It’s been downhill ever since and it’s depressing to look at those memories of wasted op-ed articles and thoughts of ideas that never materialized (and probably shouldn’t have). But a few years ago I did write up a document called “How I Would Like to be Remembered” and in honor of my 50th birthday I am now releasing it. I read it again this past week and I still think it is poignant and says in a warm and memorable way just who I am and want to be. I hope you like it. The link is at the bottom of this article.

IMG_3612 IMG_3608Living on the upper west side of Manhattan, I tend to think of myself as anonymous. I see people every day in the various stores and places I go, and figure that I am just another face through the turn-style to them, and that 2 seconds later they would forget they saw me.  I always figured that if I dropped dead, none of these people would ever notice. Lately it’s been quiet and I’ve stopped and talked to people in various places such as a local French bakery and the gym and I’ve been finding out that people may not know my name but they certainly know my face and whether or not I’ve been there lately. Not only do these people know their customers, but they also know which of them they don’t like. Turns out that many people in this neighborhood qualify as assholes and these people behind the counters know who they are. I don’t think much about it because I don’t really say or do very much, but it is interesting to know what’s out there. That said, social science evidence says that most of what we think people think of us they really don’t notice. It’s nice to be anonymous but it’s also nice to think of yourself as living within a community of real people.

Buried in a Sunday New York Times lies a truly scary article: How might President Trump redecorate the White House? It’s funny how the Republican party is pushing the Cruz candidacy only because they feel that with Cruz they will lose the election by a manageable amount, whereas with Trump they are afraid of losing almost all 50 states, the congress and ultimately the supreme court. Now that Cruz has dropped out, the point is moot. The Republicans are stuck with this guy as their nominee and they have only themselves to blame. Maybe now they will reform the party to become representative of more of America than just a couple of million hard-right ideologues.

Les Moonves is the head of CBS, and probably one of the top business executives in the world. According to a Wall Street Journal columnist, he told a recent investor conference that the Trump-dominated campaign “may not be good for America,” but “it is damn good for CBS… The money’s rolling in and this is fun….Bring it on, Donald. Keep going.” Yup, sometimes it really is that simple to understand what created this behemoth.

Two people died from Ebola last year in the US. 12,000 died from drunk driving accidents. Don’t you think viruses get too much hype?

You think you’ve got problems? Venezuela state employees are down to a 2 day workweek because the oil-producing country is so broke and broken that it can’t afford electricity. Meanwhile, the Kurdistan region of Iraq has found out that it doesn’t have nearly as much oil as it thought it did when it got all the oil companies to invest there and the oil it does have is not easy to extract and is not of the quality that is most marketable. It’s become a real financial disaster over there.

I’ve been on a search for the best possible pajamas top. For the last couple of years, all the PJ’s that I buy are itchy, scratchy, hot and just plain uncomfortable. The last pair that I like was purchased from Macy’s a few years ago and it now wears like a burial shroud; I haven’t replaced it because the Charter Club house brand changed the materials they used to use which was a blend of polyester and cotton. I have bought various long sleeve T-shirts such as a supima cotton from Uniqlo and a pair of PJ’s from Marks and Spencer. Runner up in the long sleeve white t-shirt for sleeping department is a Henley T-shirt from Untuckit  but the winner is: the Cool-Dri long sleeve t-shirt from Hanes. (For PJ bottom I’m wearing a broadcloth item from Lands End which is lightweight and comfortable.)

I like the dumb flip phones. Turns out lots of people like them; they’ve shipped out 24 million of them last year in the US, which is 2 million more than the year before.

I’ve been on a diet for the past 2 months that favors proteins over sugars and I’ve lost some weight and look and feel less bloated. One evening I went to the supermarket and looked at all these protein and health bars, almost all of which are not really healthy. Some say they have almost no sugar but they have other things in them such as alcohol solids or sugar substitutes which are sugar by another name or are just plain unhealthy. The main problem producing healthy snacks with low sugar is shelf life. Two products that make the cut according to my doctor and which are surprisingly edible are Health Warrior Chia Seed bars and Oatmega grass-fed whey protein omega-3 snack bars. They are not cheap but you can buy them through Amazon in bulk at a decent price. My kids found the chia seed bars OK but didn’t care for the Oatmegas. My wife has a recipe for banana date chocolate chip cookies with chia and pumpkin seeds and hemp hearts that are vegan and have no sugar or nuts; they are very easy to make and taste rather good. Let me know if you want the recipe.

Just about anyone who wants to be anyone in the Jewish community shows up to the annual AIPAC convention (American Israel Public Affairs Committee). Anyone who really is anyone knows not to show up – you are just 1 of 18,000 people going through long security lines in a very large convention center to hear leading politicians throw red meat to the pro-Israel crowd. My dad was there and my wife asked him what he thought of it – “They all made excellent speeches, and they were all full of shit.” So who are you voting for? “Jeremy (my son).”

I would give the Wall Street Journal the award for most improved newspaper of the decade. I used to think it was a pretty shallow paper with maybe a few good articles each day that made it worthwhile to keep the paper around and instead I would read the Financial Times, but nowadays I find myself almost spending as much time reading the WSJ as the New York Times. They have really built up a bunch of great sections and they cover New York City darn well too.

25 years after graduating law school comes validation from the Wall Street Journal of what I always thought – students who took notes by typing into their laptops wrote more notes than people who handwrote what they heard in lectures, but the vast majority of laptop note-takers forgot most of the lecture 24 hours later, while the hand-writers tended to remember many details even a week later.

I’ve come to the conclusion that Mr. Xi from China is failing as its leader. He’s gotten all of Asia scared and cozying up to America; the Chinese economy is not doing well, the corruption is as bad as it ever was and they are still having scandals such as dangerous vaccines, much as they did 5 years ago when he took over and said it had to stop. He’s made lots of enemies within as he has gone after all kinds of corruption, and the system is doing its best to sabotage him, even while it feigns praise for him.

IMG_3659A recent edition of the Economist suggests several fixes for American job displacement due to foreign competition, such as wage insurance. The Economist also says that despite the fact that global trade benefits Americans through lower prices, studies are showing that foreign trade is hurting lower skilled Americans. The Republicans need to sit down and think about some of these ideas because it’s not just enough to say you’re against taxes and redistribution of wealth and protectionism when too many people are sitting around without good jobs and nobody seems to have any answers for them. All those angry people added up to Donald Trump fanning their flames and completely turning the Republican party upside down this year and perhaps affecting all 3 branches of government if the Democrats get a clean sweep. The Economist also shows that it’s not only poor uneducated people that are supporting Trump; he is getting a third of the vote from Republicans who earn more than $100,000 a year and who have graduate or post-doctorate degrees. In the New York primary, about 80% of the voters were not from New York City but from upstate. There are plenty of people voting for Trump who don’t care to admit it, but there are more Republicans who will vote for a Democrat in the fall rather than vote for him. The disturbing thing about Trump is that 3 weeks before the Pennsylvania primary the polls said that 30% would vote for him, and actually 60% voted for him. This points to the first half of the previous sentence, but remember the second half. White Anglo voters in the US do not elect presidents. 30% of the voters will be minority voters. You forget this at your peril when you try to call a presidential election.

We are now going to be told for the next 6 months that Hillary Clinton is not as much of a liar and corrupt person or as liberal as people think she is, that Libya was a phony scandal, and that the issue of classified email is also a tempest in a teapot. And you know what? We’re going to believe it, because the New York Times and the Economist are saying so, and if enough Democrats will actually show up and vote for her she will win in November.

Supply and Demand: Remember I told you last year that eggs were up to about $4 a dozen due to the bird flu? The birds recovered and the price is back down to about $1.50. An unintended consequence of low oil prices is that airlines flying to the Middle East have seen their business traffic dry up because the oil industry is flat, so now the airlines can’t make a profit because people ain’t flying.

It’s not in the headlines but I think that ISIS is getting hurt on the battlefield and in terms of its revenues. Years ago you had Americans flying billions of dollars over to Iraq in cargo planes to give out to “our rebels”, now you have American bombers destroying storehouses of cash blowing up roughly a billion dollars in Iraq at a shot that belong to “their rebels.” Garbage in, garbage out! You really could solve a lot of problems with all this money; it’s just a real shame how the world works. And it’s not as if the next president is going to be one of our more well-intentioned people. Sorry for what America has in store for the world.

And now, here is the link to the How I Want to be Remembered article.




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