The Bet

My friend of 40 years, John Grahm, a man of the left, told me how upsetting it was that the Democrats lost the election for governor of Virginia, and, in general, did not do well at the polls this past November.  And then he uttered that unspeakable thought: “What if Trump runs and wins the election and once more becomes president in 2024.  “Aren’t you scared that this might happen,” he asked in a nervous tone.  With an air of confidence, I replied I had little concern inasmuch as a Trump Presidency is not a high likelihood.  I backed up this statement by posing a bet giving John 10 to 1 odds that Trump would not be our president in 2024:  I would pay John $1000 if Trump becomes president in 2024, but if he is not, John would have to pay me $100.  Surprised at my offer, he thought for a few moments and replied that he liked my proposition because he could hedge his bet.  That is, because he really did not want to win the bet, losing a $100 wouldn’t hurt that much. 

Before we made the bet, I wanted to make sure he understood its terms.  I made it clear that it didn’t matter whether Trump runs or not for president in 2024.  The bet simply is whether or not he will be the next president.  If he is not around to run in 2024, I automatically win the bet.  He agreed to these conditions, and we both stated our hope that he would lose the bet.

Unfortunately, for many of those that want to see Mr. Trump as a mere vestige of the past, Mr. Biden does not appear to get the message.  He is acting as if he won the election in a landslide and is attempting to follow in the footsteps of LBJ rather than the more modest and compromising Bill Clinton.  Mr. Biden apparently has forgotten that he was elected to unify the country with the hope that he could bring both Republicans and Democrats to the negotiating table.  To date, he has chosen to side with the more progressive element of his party that has been pleading to pass a huge fiscal stimulus package at a time when the country is already experiencing the highest rate of inflation (6.2 %) in the past 30 years.  Larry Summers, a registered Democrat, who was the Secretary of Treasury under President Clinton, has pointed out that too much governmental stimulus would inevitably produce further inflation.  He recently told Judy Woodruff on the PBS NewsHour he thought the infrastructure stimulus that Biden finally got through both the Senate and the House, as a signature win for his Presidency, would not cause inflation because it would be paid for over 10 years. Moreover, most people like myself, believe this particular act is extremely important inasmuch as much of the country’s thoroughfares are in need of mending.

But the buck does not stop there.  And this is where Mr. Biden might be overstepping his promises insofar as he appears to be appeasing the extreme left that attracts much media attention but not so much the vote of the populace nor that of the Congress.  The money that Mr. Biden is seeking under the rubric of the American Rescue Plan will come on the heels of the 1.9 trillion for Covid-19 economic relief and the 1 trillion Infrastructure Bill.  This money follows all the money the Trump administration injected into the economy to alleviate the consequences of the pandemic.  What might appear a gift to those named in the American Rescue Plan may turn out to have a boomerang effect, if it further worsens the inflation we already are facing.  Inflation eats away at one’s earning power in a like manner as taxes.  And as in most negative consequences vis-à-vis financial impact, the lower classes suffer the most from it.  What the government giveth, the economy may taketh away.

But it is not inflation alone that is Biden and the Democrat’s bugaboo.  Glenn Youngkin won the gubernatorial election in Virginia a few weeks ago becoming the first Republican to win a statewide election in the state since 2009.  Biden won both the electoral and popular vote in Virginia against Trump in the Presidential election by a substantial margin of more than 10%.  Contrary to his Democratic opponent McAuliffe, Youngkin argued that parents had a right to participate and inquire about what their children learned in school.  The fear of Critical Race Theory (CRT) taking over the educational system has become a source of bitter contention.

I am personally not opposed to allowing some of the ideas CRT espouses to be brought into the educational process.  But it should be seen as only one way of looking at and approaching history without eliminating other more traditional ways of viewing history.  Moreover, what CRT exactly means and how it will be taught require thorough analysis and comprehension.  The rapidity of change can create much turmoil and dissent in any society.  Both parties need to look at this process.  Unfortunately, most important matters, such as how America came to be, are hardly being discussed in any rational and balanced manner.

The issue of public safety is also another factor weighing on the American mind.  The rate of homicides has increased in almost all of American cities.  The response by progressives to defund police completely contradicts the statistics of the rising crime rate.  Trump, of course, represented himself as being tough on crime.  Although most Democrats by now have abandoned the idea of defunding police, the Biden administration has yet to adopt a plan for how to combat crime.  Areas where poorer people reside are often the hot spots of much lawlessness with many deaths by violence having occurred in these communities.

Given the above, President Biden’s approval rating has tumbled downward to a current low of 42%.  This, of course, is not a good omen for the Democrats.  Then there is the other factor that makes my bet against John even more undecided:  Republican continued support of Mr. Trump. Because of this support, the Republican party has sunk to its lower depths in many years.  The treatment that Liz Cheney received from her Republican colleagues in the House of Representatives regarding her desire to further investigate the attack on the Capitol–January 6th by Trump’s followers—was nothing less than deplorable (excuse the use of the word, but in this context, I believe it to be appropriate).

It is not a coincidence that many brilliant political analysts that were former Republicans, such as George Will, Max Boot and Bret Stephens, have left the Republican party.  Furthermore, many prominent Republicans put together a political action committee (PAC) in 2019 with the aim of preventing the re-election of Donald Trump.  During his presidency, Mr. Trump’s shambolic gestures made in trashing the unwritten rules of American society has had a deleterious effect in and outside of the United States.  If the Republicans that represent us in Congress continue to pander to their past president, we may be ultimately finding ourselves either stuck with one party or two parties, one of which, the Republicans, is out of control.  Let us hope that neither of these very bad choices become realities in American politics.

In conclusion, a lot can happen before the next presidential election in November of 2024.  John and I disagree on a lot of issues.  But we both agree that Trump in the White House in 2024 would not augur well for our country.  Although Biden has made his share of mistakes as president, the jury is still out.  One positive sign is that our President has begun to look more closely at the bottleneck in supplies causing current demand to go unmet, a factor driving prices higher resulting in inflation.  

I can only hope that President Biden makes a greater effort in representing, not the loudest members of his party, but rather the majority of his party, and, I maintain, the majority of the country. That stance, if endorsed by Biden, in conjunction with the Republican sentiment of pulling away from Trump, will secure my bet.  Hopefully, it will go in the direction of a changing Republican party and a consolidated Democratic party.  If nothing else, the next two years indeed will be interesting.

Flight #93

My wife, Lisa, and I just returned from visiting my youngest brother, Dan, and his family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.   Dan and his wife, Bernice, suggested we take a drive about 2 hours to the site of the Memorial for Flight #93 on 9/11.  The trip toward Shanksville, the location of the Memorial, allowed us to see the beautiful foliage in a windy crisp day midway into autumn.  The colorful autumn day contrasted with the somber and gloomy mood that hung over us and those that attended the Memorial.

It was a calm sunny blue-sky day on that fateful day in September. There were 33 passengers and 7 crew members.  They came from all walks of life.  They were as different as one can be.  And yet they had one thing in common:  They were all Americans.  None of them had an inkling of what was awaiting them.  Their total lack of knowledge of what was to ensue rendered the passenger response that much more remarkable.

The flight was to take-off early in the morning from Newark, New Jersey to San Francisco.  However, unusual air traffic delayed its departure by more than 25 minutes.  This wasperhaps the best thing that happened that day.  The terrorists had coordinated a plan to attack the twin buildings at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the Capitol building.  The attack on the latter had been planned to coincide with both the House and Senate to reconvene after the summer break.

When the terrorists took over the cockpit and plane, they directed all of the travelers to the back of the plane warning them that there was a bomb on the plane and to stay calm.  Fortunately, for all of us, the passengers did not comply with the command of the terrorists as some made phone calls and were warned that terrorists had seized and crashed other planes.  The plane had already gone off course and was heading toward the intended bomb site in Washington D.C. that was 20 minutes away.  Some of the passengers and one crew member had previous experience in handling emergency situations.  It is believed that this group were able to provide the leadership necessary to avert a potential disaster with grave consequences.   In the little time the passengers and crew members had to make a critical decision that they knew would cost them their lives, they acted and, it is speculated were about to seize the cockpit.  

After the passengers fought back, a message in Arabic was heard saying “put it down.”  The velocity of the plane at impact was 565 miles per hour creating a huge crater in a vacant field away from anyone.  The delayed start at Newark along with the unified courage of 34 passengers and 6 crew members diverted what could have been a most deadly attack on the Capitol, a building that is the hallmark of what our country stands for:  Democracy, that is rule by the people.

T’Shuvah

 

In the movie, Groundhog Day, Bill Murray plays an obnoxious television weatherman, Phil Connors, who comes to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania on February 1st to cover the annual Groundhog Day festivities.  He is both bossy and rude to his co-workers, Rita, played by Andie Mcdowell, and Larry, the cameraman, played by Chris Elliott.  When he awakens the next morning, contrary to his weather forecast, a blizzard hits the town and he is compelled to spend the day and night in the town.  Upon awakening the next day, the time has remained February 2nd, and he begins to wonder if he is trapped in a time loop.  This process repeats itself each morning with only Phil and no one else experiencing being stuck in a time loop.  As the days progress, he becomes a kinder and gentler soul who begins to fall in love with Rita.  With each day, we see Phil’s transformation from a loud aggressive newscaster to a much more sensitive caring human being.  At first, Rita questions the sincerity of Phil’s metamorphosis, but when she realizes he is not acting, but is for real, she begins to fall in love with him. 

Wouldn’t it be nice if such a story could happen in real life?  The recent conclusion of the Jewish New Year occurs in the observance of Yom Kippur, the day of repentance or in Hebrew, T’shuvah, marked by a day of fasting and asking God for forgiveness of one’s sins during the year.  According to the Jewish religion, the sins of the past can be halted by repenting for one’s past transgressions.  This is a healing process in which T’shuva represents a form of ethical transformation.  The idea is rooted in an individual’s return to the right path that will bring about redemption similar to what Phil experiences at the end of Groundhog Day.

Since the pandemia began, we Americans have grown more and more apart from one another in our ways.  At times, these ways have led to what amounts to an ugly tribal warfare amongst its members.  It hasn’t been pleasant to watch.  We as a nation are in need of redemption.  However, recovery will not come to us unless we begin to face each other, not as enemies, but rather as one people with differing ideas.  An example of this might be my own annoyance at people who refuse to get vaccinated.  I promise you that this belief compelling people to not vaccinate, from wherever it originated, will not be altered by my or your anger.  Anger and frustration will not bridge the gap of disagreement.  Listening to the other’s viewpoint will at least allow you to enter into a dialogue with that person.  Of course, in order for this process to work both sides need to bury the hatchet and accept the other as a fellow human being rather than a monster.  Abraham Lincoln’s words cannot be more relevant today: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

A Touch of Humor

October brings the playoffs in baseball marking the end of a long season in which each team plays 162 games.  When I look at the stony faces of the players, they appear to me to be under more stress than the rest of us have felt during these past two years.  Egos are at stake in the attempt of each team to “bring home the gold”, that is win the World Series.  Given this atmosphere, it is hard to imagine that baseball, like any other sport, is only a game, and isn’t participation in games supposed to be rooted in fun?  Obviously, this is not apparent during playoffs.

Kyle Schwarber, Red Sox first baseman, a few days ago reminded us not to take each other so seriously.  The Red Sox acquired Schwarber just prior to the baseball trade deadline of July 30th this year.  The main purpose behind acquiring Schwarber was for his bat, and not his fielding skills that were regarded as mediocre.  Although his position had been as a left fielder, the Sox had a weakness at first base so the plan was to place Schwarber where he would best contribute to the team:  first base. 

Even though Kyle’s bat has lived up to the hopes of the Red Sox management, his glove, especially at a position he had not played in the past, has drawn some apprehension.  He had made a few fielding miscues in some important games prior to the American League Division Series (ALDS) against Tampa Bay.  However, he outdid himself in the 3rd game of that series, played in Boston, when he fielded a routine ground ball hit by Josh Lowe.  In his effort to make a simple underhand toss to pitcher, Nate Eovaldi, who was covering first base, Schwarber threw it well over the pitcher’s head  The broadcasters, in a moment of disbelief, joked that the great and famously tall basketball player, Wilt the Stilt Chamberlain, couldn’t have made the catch.  You could see the momentary chagrin on Eovaldi’s face.  One could only wonder how Schwarber felt after making such a poor play allowing Lowe to be safe at first base.

Kyle only had to wait until the next inning when Ji-man Choi of the Rays hit a ground ball to him almost duplicating the play he had blown the previous inning.  However, in this case, he did not commit an error.  Afterwards he charged with fist flying in the air, as if to say he had made a great play, and then he doffed his cap and waved it to the Fenway crowd.  It was funny because it was a routine simple play that any first baseman could have made.  The Boston fans loved his antics and wildly applauded Schwarber. 

Humor to be fully appreciated has a context.  Telling a joke to an audience that doesn’t understand the punch line, has little value.  Likewise, Kyle’s stunt would not have been funny if the home team was Tampa Bay and not the Red Sox.  It takes a certain amount of self-confidence and coolness to laugh at oneself in a way that can make others laugh too but in a loving rather than deriding manner.  Even if you are not baseball fans, I would suggest you look at a replay of these two plays by Schwarber as it is being widely seen on the internet.  Kyle allowed us to put the importance of our lives on hold and savor a moment of good fun and humor.    

Anatomy of a Scam

In the old days, the buyer warning from the Latin, caveat emptor, meaning let the buyer beware, derives from the principle that a buyer, and not the seller of an item, is responsible for that purchase.  Let me extend this principle to present day conditions of scamming where the buyer does not get anything in exchange for what he/she believes was purchased.

I had received a number of calls about a special offer on my DirecTV account where I would be able to get 18 months half price, subsequently, to paying my bill for 6 months upfront at half price.  A number was left on my voicemail but I never responded.  However, I finally did answer when I saw a similar call come on my screen and, I was greeted by a robo voice offering the same deal, with DirecTV music in the background.  The voice beckoned me to wait until I was connected with someone.  My experience with all the technological advances is that it has become increasingly difficult to ever reach a real human voice.  For example, in making appointments with doctors or trying to speak to insurance companies of my clients, I find myself constantly put on call waiting before being able to speak to a real human.  So, the wait before being connected to someone gave me more credence in the phone call.

When a real person came online. he asked me for my password to verify my account information, all of which DirecTV and AT&T do, as normal procedure, when a customer contacts them.  He then said there was a promotion that DirecTV and eBay were jointly offering that applied to DirecTV users, like myself.  What was added was that eBay was involved in the promotion.  He then asked if I would be interested in having this special deal put on my DirecTV account, along with additional channels I did not have that I would receive for free as an incentive.  When I checked to verify the numbers of the stations he was citing on my TV, they were, in fact, the same ones he had mentioned.  I then told him I would take the deal at which time he gave me a confirmation number that he said I should take down.  Everything so far appeared legit.

Next, he explained that I needed to buy an eBay gift card for 6 months from a local Kroger’s or CVS or Rite Aid.  When I told him I was no longer interested in the deal, he said I would have to pay a $200 cancellation fee at which point I protested vehemently.  He then told me I could call the billing department at DirecTV if I wished.  When I called the 866 number I had been given, the man I spoke to reiterated what was already said telling me I had to pay the cancellation fee.  I then asked to speak to his supervisor.  When the supervisor came on the line, he said he couldn’t change the company’s policy regarding the $200 I needed to pay as a cancellation fee.

By this time, I was in a combined state of dismay, frustration and anger.  Rather than forfeit the $200, I decided I might as well go for the promotion and asked the supervisor exactly what I needed to do.  He told me that I had to buy a 6-month eBay gift card as a payback to that company for sponsoring the deal; I was to peel off the silver label with the serial numbers and call them into him.  He told me I had to do it by 5 p.m., Pacific Coast Time, to qualify for the deal.  When I informed him that was impossible due to my work schedule, he told me I still had to pay the cancellation fee.  I asked him what his name was and, he told me John Anderson.   Because he and the other man I spoke to had heavy Indian accents, I became suspicious.   In the background, Lisa, my wife, was saying they were breaking California state law that allows the buyer the right to cancel any contract within 48 hours.  Hearing what my wife had said, he said the promotion had been approved by the Better Business Bureau and, I could call them to verify what he was saying. If I did not pay the cancellation fee, he then threatened to cut off my DirecTV in the next 30 minutes.  At this point, my wife screamed out so he could hear it: “You are a disgrace to the human race,” and told me to hang-up.  He emphatically repeated to me that if I hang up, my DirecTV connection would be discontinued.  I hung up.

I then dialed the Better Business Bureau and, while waiting to speak to someone, saw on my iPhone screen that AT&T was calling.  I left the call to BBB and took the call from AT&T.  When the representative said she was from DirecTV Moving, I became suspicious of her.  However, she did confirm that she was with AT&T and, she asked if I was going on holiday for two months out of the country, and whether I had asked to suspend my DirecTV services for that period of time.  By giving out my password, I had allowed the intruders to speak to customer relations and put a stop on my service.  I related to her what had happened with me, and she told me I could call the AT&T Fraud Unit. I did just that.  The woman that answered my call from AT&T verified the other lady’s identification name and number that had been given to me.  She had been aware of the scheme I revealed to her telling me that AT&T does not call about promotions but emails them.  When I told her a lot of scams exist online, she did not disagree. 

Before proceeding to learn anything further about this scam, I immediately changed my password with AT&T-DirecTV.  Afterwards, I googled DirecTV-eBay promotion and discovered that this very same scam had been going on for some time.  Let me review what I learned from this experience for any other readers that may have a gullible streak.  My first mistake was to not google eBay-DirecTV.  The internet has many faults but one of its benefits is the availability of information.  If I had done this, I would have known from the start this was a scam.  Such calls can be blocked once one discovers a scam.  I was too eager to respond to what sounded like a “great deal” without doing some simple fact checking.  I further discovered that gift cards should only be used by whoever received the card or the purchaser and should never be given as payment for any service.  If someone asks you for payment in this manner, it is definitely not legit.  The reason why crooks request payment via gift cards is because they are not traceable to any bank account and cannot be retrieved.  When you are reading the serial numbers to someone, you are in effect handing that person cash.  The thief that has those numbers in his possession will then redeem the gift card as quickly as possible rendering it valueless.  He/she will do this by selling the gift card, probably at a discount, on an online shopping site such as Craigslist.

Unfortunately, scammers can burn phone numbers for one time use with all types of faked prefixes that conceals where the call originates.  I have read that these types of calls can come from another country.  On a number of occasions, I have received an email or phone call stating that I just got billed from Amazon a certain amount and I need to call a certain number if I hadn’t made that order.  Again, this simply requires some fact-checking by either going online and checking to see what my latest purchase was.  My wife, Lisa, far less naïve than I, has shown me how to verify authenticity of emails.  Even if the logo looks real, check the email address of the sender.  It may start with Amazon or AT&T with an official looking logo, but than after that may come lots of letters or numbers that point to a scammer. 

When we were children, we all had heard of the Aesop Fable, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, about the boy who repeatedly lies to the nearby villagers into believing that a wolf is attacking the sheep of a town’s flock. When a wolf actually appears, the town folk do not believe the boy’s warning and the sheep perish.  The ubiquity of scammers online, by text and by telephone is so strong in present day society that it has become difficult to know who is telling the truth.  Our heightened awareness of the everyday presence of scammers has created a general distrust that we all feel.  The caveat emptor of old has spread its wings to the online world.  I think it is much more difficult in today’s world of social media to find that rare honest individual.

On Athletic Prowess

Now that we have gotten past the memory of the tragic 9/11 event, twenty years ago, I would like to turn to the higher nature of humankind.  John Keats, in his poem, Endymion, began it with the immortal line:  A thing of beauty is a joy forever.  I would like to modify that to an act of beauty is a joy forever but retain the same idea that Keats conveyed in his poem, that we cherish a thing or act of beauty  beyond its existence.

We look at athletes who perform at the top of their game with wonderment.  When we see Simone Biles take leaps into the naked air with multiple twists, we applaud her mastery that appears so effortless.  Our own understanding of what we can accomplish makes it easy for us to recognize the uniqueness of their skills.  An athletic feat of such grandeur is short-lived but not forgotten.  Likewise, the beauty of a flower in bloom is ephemeral but stays with us much beyond its happening, as Keats surmised in Endymion “will never pass into nothingness.”

A few days ago, Hunter Renfroe, of the Boston Red Sox did the impossible.  With two outs in the top of the 9th inning at Fenway Park, a ball hit by Joey Wendle of Tampa Bay, in being missed by centerfielder Danny Santana, went passed him.   Hunter Renfroe, who plays right field, sped to the ball, and almost in one motion, took the ball and hurled it to Bobby Daubach, who was playing 3rd base for the Sox.  The throw, described by several sports writers as a “howitzer,” gunned down Wendle as he slid into 3rd base.  When the umpire called him out at 3rd base, Wendle had a look of confusion and disbelief on his face.  The perfect throw, some sportscasters said may have been 300 feet, ended the inning and the game with the Red Sox winning 2 to 1.

The post-game interview with Hunter was, like most spectular moments, anticlimactic.  Renfroe commented that when he saw Joey running to 3rd base, he instinctively threw the ball in that direction.  He modestly gave some credit to Daubach for successfully applying the tag on Wendle.

Words do not have the power to reproduce great moments.  Just like the fleeting beauty of nature, an athletic feat happens quickly and, in the case of Renfroe’s throw, unexpectedly.  Nowadays, seeing a great play like that, is much more available than the mere memory of it.  The modern age allows us to see the event well after it happens.  When the skill of an athlete far exceeds the norm, we can marvel at what had appeared impossible to reach was indeed within the grasp of humankind.  It reminds us that the potential for achieving this level of greatness is a part of what we share as human beings.

Ten Days that Shook the West

It feels the equivalent of two life times ago since I saw the movie in 1955, To Hell and Back, that starred Audie Murphy who played himself in the film.  Mr. Murphy represented the personification of the Greatest Generation, those that lived through the Great Depression and fought bravely in WWII.  Perhaps the lyrics in Paul Simon’s song, Mrs. Robinson asking: “Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?” need a new rendition to:  Where have you gone Audie Murphy? Let me be clear, I am not saying that those Americans who have served in Afghan, some of whom died, are not heroes.  But unlike Audie Murphy and the Greatest Generation, they have fought in a losing battle much like their predecessors in Viet Nam.   

America is witnessing the end of a twenty-year debacle in Afghanistan.   Kimberly Nutley, an international human rights attorney, who has worked on Afghanistan for 13 years, said this is a “human rights nightmare” comparing it to “Saigon on steroids.”  The quintessential error in American policy came on July 8 of this year when President Biden stated: “The likelihood of the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is unlikely.” There is some evidence that there were classified assessments of American spy agencies that warned of a potential collapse of the Afghan military.  But Biden apparently was blinded by the message he wanted to hear:  That now is as good a time as any to end the war.  Unfortunately, as I write these words, the world knows better.  Within six weeks of Mr. Biden’s declaration, the Taliban swooped down on Afghan, like vultures, and within 10 days overran the country, victorious at Kabul, and seized all of the Afghan weapons that America had supplied to our Afghan allies.

This is not to say that President Biden was alone in the poor decision-making America displayed in Afghanistan.  The war started when former President, George W. Bush, ordered the attack on Afghanistan in reaction to Al Qaeda’s two airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.  Mr. Bush was influenced by neo-conservatives who thought it best for American to export its democratic ways to Afghanistan in an effort at nation building.  Although this may have been a worthy ideal ending, American leaders underestimated the enormous obstacles in achieving such a task with a country that had no history of a democracy.  Duane Evans, who served in Afghanistan and wrote about his experiences there, believed the effort of nation building went awry when America went into Iraq in 2003.  He has pointed out that the focus became Iraq, and not Afghanistan, which radically altered the U.S. policy of nation building in Afghanistan.

To his credit, Mr. Biden reversed many of former President Trump’s foreign policies, such as reactivating America’s participation in the World Health Organization (WHO) and in the Paris Climate Accords.  But rather than overturning Trump’s policy of ending the war in Afghanistan and withdrawing our troops, the President went against the advice he received from his military generals in deciding to exit the war in early May.  These military advisors argued there had been no American casualties for 18 months.  General David Petraeus, the retired army general, who served in Afghanistan, maintained that the cost of keeping 3500 troops in Afghanistan to hold the line would have been minimal.  The sad irony to all of this is that by underestimating the Taliban power and not planning an organized evacuation, there has been mass chaos at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.  Disaster fell when 13 American troops and scores of Afghanistan people were killed by a suicide bomber who was a member of the ISIS-K, another terrorist group.

The late Secretary of State, George Schulz made the following observation: “Negotiations are a euphemism for capitulation if the shadow of power is not cast across the bargaining table.”  When Mr. Trump allowed 5000 Taliban prisoners to be freed in his efforts to begin the end of American involvement in Afghanistan, he was hardly bargaining from a position of power. These prisoners, now freed, could have assisted the Taliban in the rapid defeat of the Afghan military with the final blow in Kabul.

In the end, as Gerald Seib put it, the odyssey was bipartisan with the retreat widely supported by the public.  America has left troops in South Korea, Japan and Europe for years.  The question on the minds of many political strategists was why not leave some troops in Afghanistan to serve as a buffer for the Afghan forces.  Unfortunately, President Biden allowed himself to be moved by public opinion with little insight into the consequences of his actions. The American presence in Afghanistan had opened the doors for women to become educated and gainfully employed.   Because the Taliban has historically ruled by Sharia law whereby women have few, if any rights, and are not permitted an education, these doors may soon be closing.

The Taliban, a terrorist organization, now supposedly assisting America in the evacuation process, has made it clear to America that it will not extend the deadline of August 31.  The final straw is that President Biden refuses to ask the Taliban for an extension of the August 31st evacuation of all troops.  This deadline will more than likely render it impossible for many of the Afghans, who were critical in aiding Americans, to gain safe passage to the United States.  As Walter Russell Mead has said, the fall of Afghanistan will result in both our allies and our enemies believing that America cannot develop and stick to policies that work.  Robin Wright, writer from the New Yorker, speculated whether the retreat from Afghanistan will mark the end of the American era.  Audie Murphy was a hero who was a part of an America that was viewed by the world far differently than now. As Mead put it, since 9/11 our country has faced a continuous and accelerating drift and decline. 

Globalization has caused the world to shrink.  I believe the world needs America, and I would not count us out of the picture.  In the past, when hit with calamity, America has had a history of reinventing itself.  Let us hope that we will learn from this last disaster in foreign affairs to conduct future international interventions in a new and more productive manner. 

Know With Whom to Trust

     

In 1969, during my second year in a doctoral program in clinical psychology at Purdue University, I experienced what I believed to have been a huge breach in trust.  At that time, a pervasive ennui had taken hold of me that had its roots in a growing dissatisfaction with my studies.  In retrospect, I can attribute part of the frustration I experienced back then to student mental exhaustion.  I had a deep yearning to join the workforce that would free me from the task of writing papers and taking exams.

However, my inertia at that time had other sources.  As a Psychology Trainee at two Veteran Administration’s Hospitals, I had evidenced some serious shortcomings in patient treatment.  My supervisor at the hospital located in Danville, Illinois had strong features of obsessive-compulsive behavior manifested in the manner by which she tested and diagnosed patients.  Not thinking it wise to rebel, I followed her directives that consisted of a long set of rules and procedures in diagnosing a patient.  Whatever result I got, in my mind, simply did not match the amount of time spent in performing this tedious chore.  The second hospital I worked at, located in Marion, Indiana was dark, dank and a far more depressing place with fewer resources than the one in Danville.  Since my Traineeship, I am happy to say inpatient clinical care of patients has shown marked improvement.

Personality Theory in Psychology was a course I remember to have found quite stimulating.  However, I soon learned that the faculty member teaching this course had volatile and unstable features and, I was advised by an upper-class colleague to avoid working with this professor on any big project such as a thesis or dissertation.  Wisely, I followed this advice and escaped the fate that befell a fellow student.

 I never really relished learning how to do testing and assessment of clients.  The graduate student, in his last year of the doctoral program, who was in charge of grading our intellectual assessments, I felt had favorites and was a bit of a nitpicker. He would find the smallest of errors on our test protocols as a means of giving us a grade. I sensed he was looking for mistakes to justify what he was doing.  However, I enjoyed taking a course in the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventor (MMPI) in addition to very much resonating with the professor, I shall call Dr. James, who taught it.

Beyond the testing and assessment classes, the first two years of study involved little other clinical work.  The other academic area of focus was research.  Although I enjoyed designing the experiment for my master’s thesis, I lacked the motivation required to do research.  As I worked on my master’s thesis, once more it appeared to me that the amount of energy spent in completing one research paper, substantially outweighed any result the experimental might yield.  Moreover, I knew that a large number of studies with findings in the direction predicted were essential in establishing a meaningful trend in the data.  I could not help feeling that the amount of input needed in conducting an investigation into a variable was not sufficiently rewarded by the output or results of that particular study.

Because I had a good feeling about Dr. James, the professor who taught MMPI as an assessment tool, I chose him as my major advisor on my master’s committee.  He willingly accepted.  Feeling lost in terms of my professional goals, I opened myself up to Dr. James, expressing the self-doubt I was having in seeing the value of my studies.  This, I told him, made it difficult for me to feel very motivated.  He appeared supportive in what I reported I had been experiencing.  I may have met with him two or three times, seeking an answer to my confused state of mind, before I decided to request a leave of absence from the program after completing all the requirements for my master’s degree. 

When I had completed the final write-up of my thesis and was ready to defend it, the last step before receiving my master’s degree, I began hearing some ugly rumors from some students in their last year.  One of them, Steve, who had an in with the faculty, told me that my termination from the doctoral program had been mentioned, not for academic reasons, but rather for a lack of motivation. I remember my shock at hearing those familiar words: lack of motivation. I knew that rumors are rumors but there was no reason for him or other students to give me false news.  Besides, I was well-liked and to my knowledge had no enemies. 

A week or so later I successfully defended my thesis in front of Dr. James and my other committee member.  Both of them congratulated me and told me that my thesis was so cleverly designed that I should consider making research a career goal.  Subsequently, prior to leaving Purdue for my leave of absence that had been granted, I made an appointment to see Dr. James.  When I met with him, I asked him whether the rumors I had heard of my being terminated from the program were true.  He said they were but I was leaving in good standing.  Although I was irate when he verified the gossip, I bit my tongue, not wanting to hurt my chances of reentering the program in the future.

 After bidding my friends farewell, I got into my car, still miffed about what had transpired with Dr. James.  With my departure, I carried an emotional scar coming from my sense of having been betrayed.   Because I had very much-admired Dr. James, the scar cut that much deeper into my interior.

It took some time for me to understand more fully what had happened to me.  When I realized what I had done, that scar, though always there, no longer burned.  I had crossed a boundary in treating Dr. James, not as my major advisor and academic mentor, but rather as my personal therapist.  How very foolish of me!  In essence, I was telling him that what he did and what I was trying to do was a waste of time.  Indeed, I had used poor judgment in telling him confidential things that I should never have revealed.  Although painful, I had learned a lesson about life:  If you are not careful with whom you share some of your inner most private thoughts, they may come back and haunt you.

How We Can Make Luck Work

Things can change overnight.  In my last blog, Simone Biles had appeared to opt out of the Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.  Rather, she had found time to recover and to practice allowing her to enter the last gymnastic event, the balance beam, in which she placed 3rd, winning a bronze medal.  Congratulations, Simone, for persevering under what I’m sure were difficult circumstances.

Similarly, in my private practice, this week two of my clients were in the process of looking for jobs with the goal of changing their lives.  In the first case, one was making a lot of money at his present position, and he did not believe he would be able to find other employment that would match his current earnings. But there were many features in his current work environment that he despised, and he came to realize that his own mental health was more important than his salary.  His participation in the therapeutic process had helped him gain self-confidence in coming to a decision that it was time to start a job search with the goal of leaving his present situation.  He had gained the mental fortitude to prepare himself to do what was best for him.  He has proceeded to update his curriculum vitae and to investigate different occupations that might interest him.

My other client had just recently passed a major exam that qualifies him for a higher ranking in his field.  He just had completed one interview, and he was scheduled for another one the following day.  He already had met some staff that he felt comfortable with, and consequently, made it his business to be well prepared for the forthcoming meeting.  Both of my clients were upbeat about their future and ready to make a change in their lives.

Years ago, my wife, Lisa, had told me how she had taken a quote from Seneca, the Roman Stoic philosopher, and had employed it with some of the students she had seen as a career counselor.  The quote reads as: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”  She would explain to her students that were in transition the good fortune they may have experienced was not due to mere luck but the positive attitude they brought with them.

Accordingly, when the first of these two clients indicated he was ready for some luck to come his way, I told him he was in the process of making the luck happen in his life. I then quoted the lines from Seneca.  I assured him that his positive attitude now would be instrumental in creating the luck he may need in his quest for new employment that might even entail a career change.  I wanted him to realize that his positive attitude would help him in attracting possible employees in his job search.  The second client, who was facing a live interview, understood that the element of preparation would be crucial in his evaluation.

In an earlier blog, The Meaning of Mazel, I elaborated on how we make our own mazel (derived from the Yiddish, meaning luck or fortune).  This idea fits in well with what Seneca said two centuries ago.  I am amused when couples I have met say they were so lucky to find another.  Let us look at this statement more closely.  Perhaps their meeting one another came under fortuitus circumstances but that did not imply they would remain together as a couple.  Rather, it would indicate to me that at the time of their encounter they were ready to make a very important decision, that is a marital commitment.  They may have met several other potential partners but, on those occasions, may not have been ready to make a commitment.  Here I would liken readiness to what Seneca called preparation.

Even if the meeting of one’s partner in life was unplanned, there is little luck involved that keeps them together subsequently.   Moreover, the desire to stay together after so many years has little to do with luck, but rather the underlying love and appreciation, they share with one another. 

When you are prepared and feel confident, you will be able to reap the benefits of your preparation.  What you are doing is steering your life, like a captain behind the rudder of a ship, in such a way that opportunities become more apparent.  When you take the necessary steps to see where the opportunities lie, you are much more likely to experience luck than otherwise.  Just remember: Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

Stars, Too, Are Humans

The champion gymnast, Simone Biles’ decision not to participate in the Tokyo Olympics shocked the world.  When she posted on her Facebook page, “I truly do feel that I have the world on my shoulders at times,” I recalled an event that happened to me when I was 11 or 12 years old.  At that time, I was playing left field on a softball team, and I was regarded as a better than average player but far from great.  Suddenly, a ball was hit in my direction.  I had an accurate eye on the flight of the ball and, almost immediately after it was hit, came running in, toward it as fast as I could.  I just barely got to the ball as it started coming down and made a shoe-string catch off the ground before it landed.  When they saw the ball in my glove, all my teammates cheered.

It being the last out of the inning, the players on my team congratulated me telling me they didn’t believe I could make that catch.  In feeling elevated by my fielding prowess acknowledged by my teammates, it became clear to me that my status among my fellow co-players had been raised a notch or two.  After the catch, I sensed that I had joined the Circle of the Gods, that is the jocks, who were considered the best players on the team.

Unfortunately, my taste of greatness was ephemeral.  A few innings later a ball was hit hard and well over my head, but high enough where I thought I would be able to reach it while it was in the air.  As I back pedaled, I remember thinking how important it was for me to catch this fly ball to preserve my stature and stay with the Great Ones.  Like most ball players, I found it much more challenging going back to catch a ball as opposed to going in to make the catch.  This ball was hit so deep that I found myself at the border of the playing field in some hedges.  Even though it was by no means an easy play to make, in my mind I could hear my teammates exhorting to me to catch the ball.  At that moment, I clearly remember experiencing a certain amount of pressure in having to make that play. Although I reached the ball while it was still in the air, I was off balance and was unable to secure the ball before it bounced out of my glove.  When the inning ended, no one really said much to me and, consequently, I realized that I probably was no longer in the same category as the star players.

I am very much aware of the fact that the pressure I felt at a softball game at camp does not compare at all with what Simone Biles faced in Tokyo.  But the point I raise here is that top athletes in whatever sport they compete, because they are constantly in the limelight, may experience a great amount of stress.  Let us not forget that those that excel in a sport are only human like the rest of us.  Simone Biles captured this sentiment most perfectly after bowing out of the Olympics when she said: “At the end of the day, we’re human, too, so we have to protect our mind and our body rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do.”

Biles has reminded us that the often-unforgotten mind is vital in the performance of great athletes.  When her performance on an event was not up to par, she sensed the struggle to be on top may jeopardize her own health and the team’s chances of winning.  Based on her knowledge of herself and the sport, she decided to discontinue her run for more gold medals at the Olympics.  Ironically, by bowing out of the competition and not performing as she was expected, Simone acted with courage.  I understand and respect her decision as I hope others do.