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Find Meaning in Plague

By Shlomo Maital


   New York Times Op-Ed columnist David Brooks reminds us, today, that there is “moral meaning to plague”.   He quotes Victor Frankl, whose book Man’s Search for Meaning has influenced millions; in it Frankl describes how he survived the Holocaust death camps. He found meaning.

   How can each of us find meaning, in this plague epidemic?

   “Frankl saw three possible sources for meaning: in work (doing something significant), in love (caring for another person) and in courage during difficult times. Suffering in and of itself is meaningless; we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to it.” (Wiki)

     Work. Love. Courage. Pretty straightforward.

     Work – we do what we normally do, only at home and online.   Amazing how adaptable many people are, in their work. Special kudos to moms (and dads), who also care for young children.

     Love. Care for others. Let’s follow a formula I find useful, that I have borrowed: When you wake, ask 2 questions: What shall I do for myself today? (If you are not happy, strong, healthy, fit, effective, it’s hard to help others). What shall I do for others today? And, when you fall asleep, ask, What did I do for myself today? And – what did I do for others today?

   Courage. This may involve facing danger, opposition, humiliation. What is going wrong, that you can see, understand, and try to fix, or at least bring attention to it?

   There IS meaning in this epidemic. I see it everywhere, everyone, every day. Let’s all work hard to find it and leverage it.



Leadership in the Time of Plague

By Shlomo Maital

New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

   Even though I live in Israel, I find myself glued to the TV nightly, watching New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s addresses and press conferences on CNN. This is true of much of America, including President Trump, who schedules his own TV appearances in order not to conflict with Cuomo’s.

   As I watch Cuomo, I ask myself, what is leadership? What are the key qualities of political leaders, in the time of plague? Why is Cuomo’s leadership so effective, in contrast with Trump’s and other political leaders, including my own here in Israel?

   A few tentative answers. First, blunt honesty. Cuomo tells it like it is. His warnings carry weight and credibility. (Compare with, say, Trump, whose superlatives, great, terrific, perfect, ring hollow – remember, if a leader lies to us once, we will forever doubt ANYthing he or she says in future). Second, command. Cuomo has done his homework and he’s smart. He commands the numbers and the complexity of the situation and explains it clearly to people.   Third, compassion. Cuomo is a touch leader, pragmatic, hard-nosed. But when he talks about his mother Matilda, and saving her if needed, and saving all us old people, he shows empathy and sympathy. Leaders have that combination of toughness and soft compassion, used in every case where appropriate. Fourth, pragmatism. Use common sense, figure out what is needed, get it done, no excuses (the Singapore formula). Fifth, Speed. Forget platitudes, we need ventilators now, hospital beds now, masks now.   Look, New York State is not Trump’s favorite. We suspect he has withheld ventilators from the nation’s strategic stockpile. New York State prosecuted Trump’s so-called charity foundation. But Cuomo has not libeled or criticized Trump by name – only Federal agencies – and it has paid off. So leaders know how to pick their enemies, with care.

I want to share an approach I’ve found useful, for myself. I’m 77 years old and made lots of mistakes in my lifetime. So have we all. And it is painful to look back on some of them. So, today, perhaps a bit too late, I use this approach: When I need to make a decision, or decide how to behave, I ask myself: Shlomo, OK, how will you feel about this decision, in 10 years, when you look back on it? Will your chest swell with pride or will your stomach turn over with shame?   Use this, and you can’t go wrong. This is the time for leadership – not just by our political leaders but by every single one of us, challenged by the situation and faced with choices – to help others effectively or hunker down and care only for ourselves.

   And in conclusion, consider these words by Thomas Paine, written during the bitter days of the American Revolution – times that try people’s souls.

   “THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated”   Thomas Paine 1776

Substitute “life” for freedom, as we battle the plague to save lives….

The Mice and Rats Are Winning

By Shlomo Maital


   A fierce ongoing war is being waged, between humans and rats. And guess who is winning?  The rats.  The animal kind, not the human kind.

   Writing in The Guardian, Sept. 20, Jordan Kisner has some interesting and little-known facts about rats.

   * “A male and female left to their own devices for one year – the average lifespan of a city rat – can beget 15,000 descendants.”   That is partly why they are winning. The more we kill them, the more they reproduce (birth rates rise when the rat population declines)..and man, can they reproduce. And like humans, they have sex for fun, too – 10 times a day.

   * “How is it that we can send robots to Mars and yet remain unable to keep rats from threatening our food supplies? Still, here they are. According to Bobby Corrigan, the world’s leading expert on rodent control, many of the world’s great cities remain totally overcome. “In New York – we’re losing that war in a big way,” he told me.”

   * “Frankly, rodents are the most successful species,” Loretta Mayer told me recently. “After the next holocaust [nuclear war], rats and Twinkies will be the only things left.” Mayer is a biologist, and she contends that the rat problem is actually a human problem, a result of our foolish choices and failures of imagination. In 2007, she co-founded SenesTech, a biotech startup that offers the promise of an armistice in a conflict that has lasted thousands of years. The concept is simple: rat birth control.”

     How does rat birth control work?

   “SenesTech, which is based in Flagstaff, Arizona, claims to have created a liquid that will do exactly that. In tests conducted in Indonesian rice fields, South Carolina pig farms, the suburbs of Boston and the New York City subway, the product, called ContraPest, caused a drop in rat populations of roughly 40% in 12 weeks. This autumn, for the first time, the company is making ContraPest available to commercial markets in the US and Europe. The team at SenesTech believes it could be the first meaningful advance in the fight against rats in a hundred years, and the first viable alternative to poison. Mayer was blunt about the implications:   “This will change the world.” “

      SenesTech administers the rat birth control pill through liquid. “ After a series of tests, they quickly settled on a liquid, rather than solid, formulation. Rats have to drink 10% of their body weight every day to survive, and so are always looking out for something potable. “We compared the [two] and they peed on the solid and drank the liquid,” Dyer told me. “Rats are pretty straightforward.” “

     Rats have evolved over many many thousands of years. They are perfectly designed for survival in hostile environments. They are tough as nails. And they are winning. They are, as Mayer herself put it, a more successful species than us. Long after we’re gone, they will still be here.  Best we can do?   Make them practice family planning….




Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital