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Netanyahu’s Crime: Not Knowing When to Exit

By Shlomo Maital

  In the theater, scripts of plays always contain directions, such as “exit stage right”.  And the actors faithfully follow those.

   In politics,  the script in Israel has read “Netanyahu – enough, exit stage right – fast!”,  for years and years.  But Netanyahu refused.  Why?  Remaining in the Prime Minister’s residence could, he felt, keep him out of jail, with an impending conviction for corruption in the cards.  The result mired Israel in four needless exhausting elections.  And he sat glued to his chair for 12 years, and for 15 years in total as PM.  (The newly formed govt. plans to pass a term-limit law!)

    I’ve been reluctant to write about Netanyahu.  But our Rabbi,  Elisha, has saved the day and in a preface to his weekly shabbat sermon, captured my thoughts perfectly. So I can quote him, instead of spouting off myself:

    “Israel is one complicated country!… Regardless of what you think of Netanyahu, if he were to step down and allow another Likud leader to take his place, there would be a Likud led government tomorrow, backed up by a huge right-wing coalition, with at least 70% of the Knesset members in it. That is a huge coalition. But no… instead of a strong stable government (at this point it matters less if it is right wing, center of left, let’s just have a government!) we are heading into a 5th election in two and a half years. Even if Lapid and Bennet succeed, it will be the most fragile governments in Israeli history.”

Footlose Jobs: Restarting Employment

By Shlomo Maital

    A long time ago, I recall studying economic geography and learning about the geographical location of industries.   Steel plants, for instance, should be near river transportation – for transporting coal and coke barges.  (e.g. Pittsburgh, on three rivers).  Stockyards for cattle should be at rail junctions (Chicago, e.g.).   Some industries need to be near consumers, e.g. bakeries.   Some industries need fine weather, e.g. aviation – California. 

      But some industries are footloose.  They can be anywhere. 

      So – what happens when nearly everything and everyone are …footloose.  Work from home.  And in another sense – what happens when you give nearly everyone a whole year to contemplate their jobs, meaning of life, goals….and for many, do a restart. 

       Major changes are afoot.  Real estate prices will change.  Cities will change. Transportation will change.  Employment conditions and social contracts will change.  Exactly how?  And how much?  It is not at all clear.  What is clear, is that many people are simply not eager to return to their old jobs, as they re-open.   We may see a boom in small startups. 

         It could be that through inertia, we’ll go back to the same old ‘normal’.  Or, each of us can take this opportunity to do a real reboot, a ‘build back better’, not a political slogan, but a personal mandate for our own lives. 

          A lot of people are doing it.  Why not join them?

 Hardware is Back! Get On the Train!

By Shlomo Maital  

  In the film The Graduate,  McGuire takes  young Ben aside at the party and says he has one word of advice for him, just one word—and the word is “plastics” – meaning   a cheap, sterile  way of life, boring  and environmentally disastrous,  everything the values of the older generation represent.

   Today, McGuire might say, “software!”.  At my university, Technion, and elsewhere in the world, young people flock to computer science and software, dreaming of artificial intelligence and machine learning startups, and a fast unicorn exit.  The number of students enrolling in electrical engineering, to design VLSI — very large scale integraed circuits (hardware, e.g. microprocessors) — has not kept pace.

     Result:  As the world faces a shortage of chips, owing to pandemic-related supply-chain disruptions, underlying it all is a shortage of hardware engineers to design new and better ones.   So, McGuire – change your tune.  “Hardware!”   That’s what we need.

      We have been taught many bitter lessons by the pandemic.  One of them is the fragility of our global ecosystem.  It does not take much to badly disrupt it.  Take, for instance, the chip shortage that has has forced some car manufacturers to design chips and software out of their product – eliminating, e.g. dashboard screens.  This of course is no solution – to retrograde five years in design rather than progress.

     I think I would recommend that young people consider hardware as a future, rather than software.  The chip shortage will not go away tomorrow.  The six biggest Israeli tech companies each seek to hire hundreds of hardware engineers —   and the number of graduates is far far too small to meet the demand. 

     There is, however, some hope.  Writing in the New York Times, tech report Don Clark notes: 

“Even as a chip shortage is causing trouble for all sorts of industries, the semiconductor field is entering a surprising new era of creativity, from industry giants to innovative start-ups seeing a spike in funding from venture capitalists that traditionally avoided chip makers. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company and Samsung Electronics, for example, have managed the increasingly difficult feat of packing more transistors on each slice of silicon. IBM on Thursday announced another leap in miniaturization, a sign of continued U.S. prowess in the technology race.”

       Ineredibly, chip designers are now packing more and more transistors onto tiny pieces of silicon —  working down at the level of 7 nanometers,  down to 5 nanometers, and soon, 3 nanometers!  (An atom is a tenth of a nanometer – so chip designers are now using technology at the atomic level!).    Of course, they are reaching the limit of this technology – and the next big leap will be quantum computers – which also requires huge innovation in hardware, as well as software.

    Eventually the chip shortage will be resolved.  But have we learned?  Have we learned that one ship blocking the Suez Canal can disrupt global supply chains and wreak havoc worldwide?  Have we learned what John Donne wanred, in 1623:  ask not for whom the bell tolls – it tolls for every one of us!    Do we really think we are scot free from virus, when it rages in Brazil and India and Nepal and elsewhere?  

     The free market will signal that hardware engineers are in short supply, as their wages go way up.  But this is rather slow – it takes years to create a truly experienced productive VLSI engineer.  Surely we need some strategic direction and incentives – the global ecosystem is incredibly delicate and fragile, and needs daily tender loving care.

     Hardware!  Not plastics.  Think about it. 

 Eat Dessert First – Lewandowski does!

By Shlomo Maital  

Robert Lewandowski

      Last year, when we hosted a gaggle of grandchildren for our own summer camp, I announced a new political party, just for fun. (We had 39 !!! in our last election). In Israel, each political party has one to three Hebrew letters on its ballot.  Mine was the letters ק ק   kuf kuf – in Hebrew, standing for “dessert first”.  Eat dessert first.  What’s the point of making delicious pies, ice cream, cake… if you’re too stuffed to eat it?  So – start with dessert.  That our  vision statement.

      My granddaughter, who turned 8, grabbed the idea and ran with it.   She rounded up the other kids and took off with the idea. She set up a headquarters upstairs, and cranked out membership cards and posters.  And now, from time to time, we really do practice ‘kuf kuf’  (kinuach kodem, in Hebrew),  dessert first.

      So imagine my delight, to read New York Times soccer journalist Rory Smith’s great piece about Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski, a Polish late-bloomer who is now 32 and is a fearsome goal machine, about to beat Gerd Muller’s record for career goals. 

      Lewandowski has become an honorary member of ‘eat dessert first’.   Here is how Smith describes it:

Now — thanks in part to the expertise of his wife, Anna, a nutritionist — Lewandowski, semifamously, eats his meals in what is generally accepted to be the wrong order. “If I have time to have dessert, I prefer to eat it an hour or so before lunch,” he said. “I don’t always eat it, but if I do, I try to have a distance between carbohydrates and protein.”

Look —  distance, shmistance (between carbs and proteins) —  I’ll take it anyway. If it helps Lewandowski become a fearsome goal machine for his team, even at age 32,  and if eating dessert first makes everybody really happy —   hey, vote for it!  

    My claim is this:  If it makes you happy,  then (in moderation) it helps keep you healthy.   Because stress and worry are really bad for your health, more so than a few carbs or spoons of ice cream. 

     Some day, drop in and try my homemade vanilla ice cream.  Before dinner. 

 d

 How Am I Doing? (12 Questions)

By Shlomo Maital

   Dr. Tyler J. VanderWeele is a Harvard epidemiologist and biostatistics professor.  He  has developed a simple questionnaire to help us evaluate a core question, highly relevant as we emerge from over a year of pandemic lockdown and isolation:

      How am I doing?

    We hear about loneliness, isolation, stress, depression, and, a relatively new concept, languishing – people who are not depressed but who are not flourishing. *

      So – how are you doing? Are you flourishing?  Try these questions.  They are scored 1-10,  but,  I prefer just to give the raw questions, as food for thought, without the need to score. You can look up the real thing on the Human Flourishing Program website.

https://hfh.fas.harvard.edu/measuring-flourishing

Domain 1: Happiness and Life Satisfaction.

1. Overall, how satisfied are you with life as a whole these days?

2. In general, how happy or unhappy do you usually feel?

Domain 2: Mental and Physical Health.

3. In general, how would you rate your physical health?

4. How would you rate your overall mental health?

Domain 3: Meaning and Purpose.

5. Overall, to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?

6. I understand my purpose in life.

     Strongly agree? Strongly disagree?

Domain 4: Character and Virtue.

7. I always act to promote good in all circumstances, even in difficult and challenging situations.

    Always? Often? Rarely?

8. I am always able to give up some happiness now for greater happiness later.

     Always? Often? Rarely?

Domain 5: Close Social Relationships.

9. I am content with my friendships and relationships.

    Very?  Somewhat?  Hardly?

10. My relationships are as satisfying as I would want them to be.

Domain 6: Financial and Material Stability.

11. How often do you worry about being able to meet normal monthly living expenses?

12. How often do you worry about safety, food, or housing?

    A lot?  A little? 

  So in general, how are you doing?  Are you flourishing?   What in your life could you change, relatively quickly, that would give you stronger ‘flourishing’ answers? 

   Worth a shot?

  • Cited in Dani Blum’s NYT article, Friday May 7, p. 12,  “how to thrive on the other side”.

Premonition: How Dr. Charity Dean Saved Lives

By Shlomo Maital   

Dr. Charity Dean

     Michael Lewis has written several blockbuster investigative books.  His newest is The Premonition: A Pandemic Story.  And it has a hero:  Dr. Charity Dean.  Here is what Lewis told a CBS 60 Minutes interviewer named John Dickerson about an unsung hero, Dr. Charity Dean:   (I’ve kept this to 800 words…worth reading the whole transacript).

   “Lewis writes that at the beginning of the pandemic one of those people [who saw the pandemic unfolding, spreading, tragically] was Dr. Charity Dean, a disease control expert, and the assistant director of California’s Department of Public Health. In January of 2020, Dean was alarmed when she saw images circulating on social media that appeared to show Chinese authorities welding apartment doors shut to keep residents indoors. 

      Audio insert:  Dr. Charity Dean: And watching those videos on Twitter, ’cause I had no other source of information, I thought, ‘They know something we don’t and this is real.’

      “Dean’s hunch was that international travel into California’s major airports meant the virus was already circulating in her state. She guessed there might be 100 undetected cases of COVID-19. Dean did what she called “dirty math” on her whiteboard, plotting what the virus might do to California in the coming weeks.

      John Dickerson: So you’re doing the dirty math on the whiteboard and you step back and you think what?

Dr. Charity Dean: I thought, ‘Oh my God. I don’t believe this. It’s 20 million in May.’

   “Her projection of 20 million cases meant half of California’s population would be infected within four months unless officials intervened to slow the virus’s path.

       John Dickerson: What was the response when you told your bosses that?

     Dr. Charity Dean: Disbelief. Shock. And then irritation.

      John Dickerson: Why irritation?

    Dr. Charity Dean: Because I think it’s just really hard for the human brain to grasp the exponential growth of an existential threat.

      John Dickerson: They didn’t even let you use the word ‘pandemic’ when you wanted to, is that right?

     Dr. Charity Dean: I was asked to not say the word ‘pandemic’ because it might scare people. But I was scared.

   John Dickerson: And you thought people should be too? 

  Dr. Charity Dean: Absolutely.

     Michael Lewis: Charity, who thinks she’s all alone, all alone in the world, aware in January that this pandemic is gonna sweep through the United States and nobody’s doing anything about it, including her state government. And nobody will listen to her. And all of a sudden, she’s introduced to the Wolverines. When she finds these people, it’s, like, yeah, these are my people.

    John Dickerson: Who were the Wolverines?

     Michael Lewis: The Wolverines were a group of seven doctors, all of whom at one point or another had worked in the White House together, and who stayed in contact and kind of helped the country navigate various, various previous disease outbreaks. But they weren’t in the decision making apparatus in the U.S. government.

       John Dickerson: Why are they called the Wolverines?

   Michael Lewis: They’re called the Wolverines because a fellow White House employee dubbed them so. It had some obscure reference to the film “Red Dawn.”

     Michael Lewis: …where these group of high school kids named the Wolverines go up and try to defeat the invading Russians.

    John Dickerson: In other words, the Wolverines had to take things into their own hands ’cause there was nobody to stop the invading force.

Michael Lewis: That’s right. They were a guerilla disease fighting operation.

    John Dickerson: Because the people actually who were supposed to be fighting the disease weren’t doing it.

Michael Lewis: Weren’t doing it.

    President Trump on January 22, 2020: We have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.

    “In late January, as President Trump and the federal government publicly showed no urgency over the virus, Lewis writes that the Wolverines tried a work-around: getting the states to move. It’s why the Wolverines recruited Charity Dean, hoping if she could push California to act, the federal response might quicken.

    Michael Lewis: She asks one of them, ‘Who’s running the pandemic response?’ And one of them says, ‘Nobody’s running the pandemic response. But to the degree that anybody’s sort of running the pandemic response, we sort of are’

     John Dickerson: This is fantastical, I think, to most Americans. Which is, they think there is something called the Centers for Disease Control. And there are big buildings in Washington that have Health and Human Services. Why did the Wolverines have to do what there are huge institutions designed to do?

     Michael Lewis: That’s a great question (laughter). That’s a very good question, right?. In the first place, the Trump administration abdicated responsibility for running the for the federal government. He just walked away from that. He said, ‘Governors, you’re on your own.’

– – – – –

       Trump paid the price. He lost the election because of virus denial.  But so what!  590,000 people lost more than an election, they lost their lives.   When you politicize everything, including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC),  a public health agency, that’s what you end up with. 

        As Joan Baez sang:  When will we ever learn?

Populist Leaders Kill Their People – Beware!

By Shlomo Maital

    A Christian Science Monitor report, by Sarita Santoshini, Ana Ionova and Sara Miller Llana, confirms what I suspected:  Populist leaders, by ignoring the COVID-19 pandemic, kill their people.  Ironic, isn’t it… leaders who supposedly are ‘for the people’, which is what ‘populist’ is supposed to mean, actually kill people.   What if what the people want – no lockdown, no masks, no restrictions – is bad for them?  Do courageous leaders do what is best?  Or what gets them votes?

     Here is the evidence:  “The five countries at the top of the global COVID-19 mortality tables – the United States, Brazil, India, Mexico, and Britain – have something in common: All had populist leaders when the pandemic began.   Like Donald Trump, heads of the other four governments also played down the importance of the pandemic or moved slowly to deal with it. They shared some habits, too – oversimplifying the pandemic, dramatizing their own responses, asserting their own solutions, and forging divisions along the way.”

      Fareed Zakharia confirmed this, on his CNN program today as well. 

      The three Christian Science Monitor reporters continue: “Populist leaders swept to power in recent years on a wave of promises. But confronted by a public health emergency like COVID-19, they have performed significantly worse than traditional politicians.   The results were catastrophic, and that has had political repercussions, even though they tried to shift the blame onto others. Mr. Trump is widely thought to have lost the U.S. presidential election because of his mishandling of COVID-19; anger at Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is on the rise; in Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro’s popularity is plummeting.”

        Here are the sad statistics:  (the numbers for India are likely an underestimate):

                                                        Total deaths             Deaths per million population

                                               U.S.     590,000                        1,776

                                                India   216,003                        155

                                                Brazil  406,565                        1,901

                                                 Mexico    217,168                    1,670

                                                  UK           127,524                   1,870

        Next time you are tempted to vote for a populist leader —  remember these numbers, remember how they fared during the pandemic.  These five countries have paid a heavy price for their wacky leaders.

Biden as FDR: 100 Days

By Shlomo Maital

    President Biden has a plan.  It’s not new.  It was used by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt 90 years ago.  Here is how it works.

     Win election, by offering pragmatic solutions and proposals to an existential crisis (Depression, in 1932;   pandemic, in 2020).

      Begin by winning public trust.  FDR:  solved the bank crisis, by closing the banks and insuring deposits.  He did this first thing on election.   Biden:  reorganize the vaccination program, and vaccinate up to 4 million Americans daily;  132 million Americans got at least one shot, and 100 million have natural immunity; 80% of those over 65 have been vaccinated.

       Build on that trust to tackle other difficult issues.  Climate.   Jobs.  Education. Jobs.  Child care. Jobs.   Use language carefully – Jobs Program, American Jobs…Biden used ‘jobs’ many many times in his recent address to Congress.

        Be bold.  Think big.  Ignore the naysayers. (Republican Senator Tim Scott attacked Biden’s address, but offered not a single positive constructive suggestion.)    

         I recently took part in a webcast with two other forward-thinking economists, from the US and UK.  Both agreed —   the government must play a leading role, and spend hugely,  and then worry later about paying off the debt, in a systematic fashion. 

        This is what FDR did in 1932.  His New Deal did not end the Depression, but eased it for many.    Biden is following his model.  The Biden deal will make life better for many,  while at long last making corporations and billionaires pay taxes. 

         The daily relief of not seeing an evil man spewing bile on Twitter daily,  stirring up his racist supporters and spurring them to violence —  the relief is palpable.  In Yiddish, we call a good person a “mentsch” – a good human being.  We have a mentsch in the White House.  Man, what a relief.             

Once You Learn How to Die….

By Shlomo Maital

    Once, in my younger days,  I started writing a book, with the presumptuous title How to Live.  It soon occurred to me that – I really had no idea. 

    Recently my wife brought home Mitch Albom’s 1997 best-seller Tuesdays with Morrie, picked up from the library’s freebie give-away pile.  This book is about journalist Albom’s weekly visits with his former professor Morrie Schwartz, who was dying of amyotrophic lateral syndrome (ALS), or Gehrig’s Disease.  I randomly read the chapter titled: The Fourth Tuesday: We Talk About Death.

    The key message:  “The truth is, Mitch,”  Schwartz said, “once you learn how to die, you learn how to live”. 

      What???

       Here is Schwartz’s explanation.  “Because most of us walk around as if we’re sleepwalking. We really don’t experience the world fully, because we’re half asleep, doing things we automatically think we have to do.”

        And, facing death changes all that?  Albom asks.

       “Oh, yes. You strip away all that stuff and you focus on the essentials. When you realize you are going to die, you see everything much differently.   The things you spend so much time on –  all the work you do – might not seem as important. You might have to make room for some more spiritual things….. Mitch, the loving relationships we have, the universe around us, we take those things for granted.”

         When I teach “effective creativity”, I try to explain a tool developed by the world’s great management consultant Peter Drucker – abandonment.  To make room for new things, get rid of old baggage.  Or, in other words, subtraction.  Innovation starts not by adding new stuff, but by getting rid of old stuff, that creates no value.

         I read in the New York Times that young people, after a year of isolation and work-at-home, are pursuing Morrie’s idea.  They are no longer eager to return to the 24/7 frantic pace of pre-pandemic.  They have rediscovered their kids and spouses.  It took a global epidemic. 

          So – thanks Morrie, and thanks Mitch, for putting his wise words on paper.  There is indeed time to read old books.  There is time to practice subtraction – what am I doing that would make me and my loved ones better off if I could stop doing them?   And there is time to value every single day and make it count.   Because, if today was indeed our last on earth, and nobody really wants that —  well, it should count, right?

        I have a very close friend who has refocused his life, by …. Seeking and appreciating beauty.  Wherever it is.  The fruits of this small exercise are remarkable. 

How to Connect with Others

By Shlomo Maital

    “Don’t talk to strangers”.  I guess a generation of parents has taught this to their kids.  But according to Julie Lythcott-Haims, this is not good advice.  We want our kids to be good at making connections, at social skills… safely, of course.  Julie is a prize-winning author, and lately, her book Your Turn: How to Be an Adult  offers really good advice on just that – how to be an adult,  which is more than chronologically reaching, say, 21 and legally entering a bar. 

      Earlier, she counselled parents on how not to be ‘helicopter parents’, hovering over kids and overprotecting them (I was the son of a helicopter mom, but finally escaped and ran off to college).  As parents, we need to make our kids resilient, self-confident, self-reliant, able (as Julie says practically) to find shelter, look after their possessions, prepare food for themselves, and, yes, talk comfortably to others. 

      Lythcott-Haims has an interesting background.  She is the daughter of a prominent Black physician and British white mother.  She is a former Dean of Stanford freshmen, and for years, evaded her Black origins, finally embracing it.

       I want to focus mainly on one aspect of how to be an adult – connecting with others.  It took me a very long time to learn this skill, far too long.  The key is, truly caring about other people, respecting them, even loving them, and finding out, sometimes in advance, what really sparks their interest.  For my acquaintances, I pretty much now have a catalog of their interests.  This applies to those from ages four or five (we have grandchildren, lots of ‘em), to 95.   Our grandson Z. loves animals.  So we talk a lot about them.  E. likes science and stuff.  A close friend, elderly and ill, loves Broadway musicals – we talk about Sondheim and Rogers & Hammerstein.   It takes a while to make connections.  A good start is to ask some questions, avoid small talk, be genuinely interested, and when you see the light go on in their eyes,  go for it… follow up.   In part, this means that you yourself need to be interested in a lot of different things.  It helps a lot.

     We know for a fact that those with strong relationships live longer healthier lives.  So literally, learning to connect is indeed a matter of life and death.  And practice makes perfect.  So, yes, do talk to strangers.  After 10 minutes of zeroing in on their passion, they are no longer strangers.   And sometimes, one good question can get the ball rolling.

     Essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson hated small talk, and used to ask people, when he met them,  “what have you learned since we last met?”  I try this sometimes.   It’s a pretty hard question – but at least, it gets a smile, and sometimes ignites a great chat.

   Yes, this is a kind of self-help book – but one of the best ones, based on Julie’s long experience in counselling young people at the doorstep of adulthood.  Give her advice a try.

    I first learned of it on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air podcast, in a fine interview by Dave Davies, subbing for Terry Gross.

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

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