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A Higher Loyalty – Truth, Lies, and Leadership

James Comey is probably the last person who ever thought he’d write an autobiography. But he did.

The book starts in his early childhood, when he was an outsider and a target of bullies. He tells his story eloquently and with very simple language. We follow him through his life and career in law enforcement. The name Trump doesn’t even come up until 75% through the book.

We come to understand that Comey is a man of strong principle and little ego, somebody who does what his conscience tells him, not what his ego demands. He is a person who is obsessed with always “doing the right thing.”

I learned that Comey first started out as a prosecutor in the Southern District of New York, under U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani, who had a reputation as a brilliant and aggressive young prosecutor who was set on eradicating the mafia in New York City. He eventually did just that, and Comey learned a lot from Giuliani.

Here is an excerpt:

There was something of an unwritten code about working in the office of Rudy Giuliani, as I suppose there is in most organizations. In his case, the message was that Rudy was the star at the top and the successes of the office flowed in his direction. You violated this code at your peril. Giuliani had extraordinary confidence, and as a young prosecutor I found his brash style exciting, which was part of what drew me to his office. I loved it that my boss was on magazine covers standing on the courthouse steps with his hands on his hips, as if he ruled the world. It fired me up.

Prosecutors almost never saw the great man in person, so I was especially pumped when he stopped by my office early in my career, shortly after I had been assigned to an investigation that touched a prominent New York figure who dressed in shiny tracksuits and sported a Nobel-sized medallion around his neck. The state of New York was investigating Al Sharpton for alleged embezzlement from his charity, and I was assigned to see if there was a federal angle to the case. I had never even seen Rudy on my floor, and now he was at my very door. He wanted me to know he was personally following the investigation and knew I would do a good job. My heart thumped with anxiety and excitement as he gave me this pep talk standing in the doorway. He was counting on me. He turned to leave, then stopped. “Oh, and I want the fucking medal,” he said, then walked away.

— Comey, James. A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership (pp. 19-20). Flatiron Books. Kindle Edition.

I found it strange to hear from Comey how impressive Giuliani’s skills were early in his career. What happened to the man? Now, when I see him speak, I can’t think of anything but a senile, goofy, confused fool. Impressive once, but not anymore.

Comey tells his story of how he served under Bush and then Obama, and how, to his dismay, he was drawn into the controversial events just before the election of 2016, when Anthony Weiner’s laptop  turned up in the hands of the FBI, and they inexplicably stumbled upon more than a hundred thousand Clinton emails they could not possibly read in the ten days remaining before the election.

And then came Trump, and one strange encounter after the other more and more convinced Comey that Trump was unethical.

One day Trump was schmoozing up to Comey, and the next day, without even facing him in person, fired him remotely via television.

In A Higher Loyalty, Comey tells his story in sober language without fanfare. When Trump tweets about the book as a collection of lies, he proves to me that he hasn’t even read it.

I know when I trust somebody, when somebody is sincere with me. Trump is not sincere. His words don’t ring true. He body language is that of a liar. And his words are so easily disproven, I don’t even need to observe body language to know that he lies. Five seconds of googling usually brings the lies into the light of day.

With Comey, it’s the opposite. Go read his book and then tell me to my face that he “made it all up.” That will seem like nonsense to you. Comey is sincere, dedicated, and committed to this country and to the institutions of law enforcement he has dedicated his life to.

No wonder Trump attacks Comey.

The bully is terrified!

 

I have always been interested in illusions, mostly optical ones. In recent days, the auditory illusion of Laurel and Yanni has swept the Internet.

The control below does not work in some older browsers, like IE11, but it does work in Chrome. If you can’t use the control, just click on the link below it, and it will launch your audio player.

Audio Player Version of Yanni and Laurel

What do you hear?

Some people hear “Yanni” and others hear “Laurel.” I mostly hear Yanni.

You can play it over and over again, and it’s always the same.

Well, almost.

And this is what freaked me out completely: Yesterday, when I first found this link and played it on my iPhone, I heard Yanni EVERY TIME. Trisha heard Laurel EVERY TIME.

Then, for kicks, while I was reading in bed some hours later, I heard Laurel. Every time. I could not unhear Laurel and go back to Yanni. I have discovered, two days in a row now, that during the day I year Yanni, and late at night I hear Laurel. Consistently. I cannot “switch” to the other when I am in one mode.

I am a Yanni and Laurel bipolar.

I found this tool, published by the New York Times, where you can slide a bar and hear the change. Using it, I could find the transition and then slowly force my brain to hear the other side.

This makes me think about testifying in court. One person will say they swear the suspect said his name was Yanni, and the other Laurel, and both are right.

Scientists explain that this is due to the frequencies being right between the two, and the brain is trying to make sense of it. So it picks one or the other. It’s equivalent to the visual illusion where you see two vases or two faces silhouetted. Or even the old 3D illusions that were popular some 20 years ago, where you see 3D objects floating in front of a field of grainy colors. The brain constructs something that makes sense and it works.

Fascinating indeed.

 

 

Oh, yes, the cost is the problem. Need to save money.

The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.

— Dwight Eisenhower

To Tell a Lie

He who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and third time, till at length it becomes habitual; he tells lies without attending to it, and truth without the world’s believing him. This falsehood of the tongue leads to that of the heart, and in time depraves all its good dispositions.

— Thomas Jefferson

Lately I have been reminiscing about decades gone, and loved-ones passed, and poems written and hidden.

When June passed away more than ten years ago, she didn’t know she’d be my mother-in-law one day, and neither did I. But I cared for her, and I missed her. I wrote a poem for her and recited it at her funeral ceremony. And then I stored it away.

It deserves to be out in the open.

In Honor of June Livziey, December 22, 2007

 

The Circle of Life

She passed away on Thursday night,
Much sooner than we thought.
But she knew she was going soon.
I could tell by the length
And the strength
Of her last hug
The night before.
She just did not want to let go.

She went
Comforted by the words
And hugs
Of her daughters.
“It’s ok to let go, mom.”
“It’s ok.”
She knew they were there,
The last day,
The last hour,
The last minute.
They were there.

Just like they were
When they were little girls
In Hawaii
And she took care of them
When their father was at sea
Or at war.
The three of them.
Mother always in charge.
Always.

I could relate to her
From the first minute we met.
She was so much
Like my own mother,
Who also still mends clothes and darns socks,
Makes home cooked meals,
Cans fruit,
And thinks of family as the highest value
Of all.

She was a giver,
Who talked by giving
And loved by giving.
By writing a check
For a graduation gift.
By crocheting a baby blanket
For someone’s great granddaughter
That she would never meet.
By cooking chicken noodle soup
For me,
And freezing it
In Tupperware,
So there’d always be some
In my refrigerator
For when I have a cold,
Like right now.
I don’t think
I want to thaw
That last batch.

She was a giver,
And a lover.
I am sure
She is loving right now,
The pain finally all gone,
In peace,
And comfort.

We are all here,
Thinking about the things we should have said
Once more,
But didn’t.
Friends, family, celebrating her life,
Her legacy,
And remembering how she lived,
And how she loved,
And how she touched us all.

She taught me
To value the moments more.
To call my own parents more often
Than I used to.
While they are still here,
And I can still call.
She taught me that.

At our Thanksgiving table
She toasted to us,
Pledging to fight
To be with us at Christmas.

It was not to be so.

Her house is a scrapbook
Of her life.
Every plate, every photograph, every gift,
Is a memento
A record of her moments.
She had to leave her scrapbook behind,
As she had to leave everything.

When I walked in her house,
The first thing I saw
Was her purse.
Not one of her nice ones,
But her work purse,
Her shopping purse,
Her everyday purse.

There it sat, on the couch, as it often had,
Her key chain attached to the handle with a ring,
Her wallet in there,
Her camera,
Her Costco card,
And undoubtedly all the other stuff
That she was always rummaging for,
In her purse,
Left there,
On the couch,
Never to be picked up again,
Completing the Circle of Life.

So the White Trash in the White House stated today that Iran’s Military Budget is up more than 40%.

I would get it if he made things up that we can’t disprove, but about 5 seconds of googling and there is the truth and the lie exposed. Does he not know we can read?

The fact is, Iran’s military budget has gone from $12B in 2016 to $14B in 2017 (source). So Trita Parsi’s chart above is also somewhat misleading, but it does compare Iran to Saudi Arabia, for contrast.

Did you know that in 2014 (the last data I could find), the Iranian cabinet had more members with Ph.D. degrees from U.S. universities than Barack Obama’s cabinet? In fact, Iran had more holders of American Ph.D.s in its presidential cabinet than France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and Spain—combined.

Here is more information and links.

Should this make us think again about Iran?

But more importantly, it should make us think about Trump – who seems to just make stuff up.

Euclid and 9th

I spend much time in Ohio these days due to a project our company is deploying. So naturally I think about Ohio and the times I have visited there throughout my life.

Many years ago, on a business trip to Cleveland, I remembered that the maternal grandparents of my children first met there, and started their lives together. They had told us the story many times: They met because they both worked in the same building on Euclid and 9th. So I went for a walk that night to explore, and when I got back to my hotel room, I wrote a poem, saved it off and then never published it anywhere.

I have always been fascinated about fate, and particularly how specific moments in time can have massive consequences. Two people meet by chance, and an entire family tree is created, giving life to sometimes dozens of others, who would never have existed, if it hadn’t been for that one simple twist of fate.

I wrote the following poem that night many years ago. Today it gets to see the light of day:

Euclid and 9th

I step out of the front door of the Hampton Inn
Downtown Cleveland
Right across the street from the cathedral.
Whose yellow and light orange stones,
Its majestic facades,
Reflect in the glass towers,
That dwarf the house of God on all sides.

I turn right, heading south.
It’s early October,
A stiff breeze whips up East 9th Street
And chills the back of my neck and ears.
I look at myself in the reflections of the shop windows.
A middle-aged bald man wearing bifocals,
In need of a hat to keep warm.
Faded blue jeans, white sneakers, red T-shirt,
Huddling in a brown corduroy jacket
That is a bit too thin for this cold wind.

Just a block up ahead is Euclid and 9th,
The heart of downtown Cleveland.
She told me Euclid and 9th,
That’s the best I remember.
I look for a building that could have been there
A long fifty-five years ago.
It can only be the north-east corner,
The Huntington Bank Building.
All others are newer,
But then perhaps,
The building might no longer be there,
Replaced by a glass tower long ago,
Without any trace.

I step between massive stone columns,
Push through a heavy glass circular door
Into the lobby of the Huntington Bank.
Hushed quietness swallows me
And I am small and out of place in my blue jeans.
I should be wearing a suit and a briefcase full of cash.
Glorious giant columns hold up an arched ceiling
At least five stories high
That belongs into a church, not a bank.
Marble all around.
The lobby is off to the right.
I breathe in the silence of the building,
I sense the passing of years.

This must have been the building where they first met,
More than half a century earlier,
On Euclid and 9th.
And even if it was not the very building,
I see the streets out front,
The people,
The traffic.
The cars look different today
Than they looked in the forties.
But it was in this space,
Generations ago
Where a meeting of two strangers
Turned into courtship, then love
And then marriage.

They had three children
Now all around fifty in age.
I married the youngest,
We had two children,
Who are now alive,
Because two people met so long ago,
Near Euclid and 9th.

The lovers can never come back to this spot.
Their children never visited here,
Only heard the stories,
Many times over.
The two grandchildren will never come here.
They have not heard the stories,
And do not know their origins.

Only I stand here
A bystander, really,
A happenstance contributor to their offspring,
And I wonder how many other lives were created
In this building
By the coincidental meeting of two lovers.
The building is still here, royal, important.
Lifetimes in its memory,
Because I am here,
And I remember
That important things happened here,
On Euclid and 9th.

[click to enlarge] Photo Credit: Credit James Cruz (jamesjcruz on Instagram)

I have never been to Egypt and have not seen this view with my own eyes. But it must be one of the most spectacular views in the world, truly awe-inspiring.

What gets me is what I see in the lower left corner of the picture. It looks like a shed, or a chicken coop in a slummy back yard. If I owned a property in that spot I’d have a palatial veranda overlooking the most awesome view in the world. I would not put a shed in that corner.

But then again, this pyramid was completed more than 4,500 years ago. When Cleopatra was born in 69 B.C., those pyramids were already 2,500 years old. In other words, Cleopatra is closer to us in the time line than she is to the time the pyramids were built.

The chicken coop will long be gone, and Cairo will likely be dust 2,000 years hence, and the pyramid will still be there, and the sun will still set behind it.

That thought gives me comfort.

Hearts in Atlantis is highly praised by the critics, some even called it King’s masterpiece. But I had a difficult time reading this 672 page tome.

Don’t get me wrong, King is a master storyteller, and his characters come alive very quickly. You can’t ever blame King for presenting cardboard characters.

As a matter of fact, in this book the characters are very Kingsean. It’s the structure of the book that just didn’t work for me.

Part 1 is titled 1960: Low Men in Yellow Coats and it’s the best part of the book. If Low Men in Yellow Coats had not been the first part, I would have stopped reading pretty quickly. It’s King through and through. The protagonist is Bobby Garfield, an 11 year old boy in a small town in Connecticut. He has two friends his age, Sully and Carol, and the three of them experience the mysteries of the adult world through their points of view, in true King spirit full of “monsters” and supernatural events.

Here is a sample of true King writing:

What if there were no grownups? Suppose the whole idea of grownups was an illusion? What if their money was really just playground marbles, their business deals no more than baseball-card trades, their wars only games of guns in the park? What if they were all still snotty-nosed kids inside their suits and dresses? Christ, that couldn’t be, could it? It was too horrible to think about.

—  (page 196)

I must admit, I have often thought about this. Inside I am still a snotty-nosed kid of age 11, going to Latin classes with Professor Illauer in Regensburg, trying to figure out what the world is about. My suit is fake, my money is only play money. The world is not real, and Stephen King has it figured out.

The story captivated me and kept me reading, until I got to Part 2, Hearts in Atlantis.

Part 2 shifts to a bunch of college kids who squander away their time in school playing, yes, Hearts. That’s all they do. King spends a tremendous amount of time describing the players and their lives, loves and passions, pretty much without any connection to Part 1, except Carol, Bobby’s girl friend from 1960, is there in college in 1966 and befriends one of the Hearts players.

Then comes Part 3, Blind Willie, where we follow a fake blind panhandler in New York City through a day of his life. The only connection to Part 1 is that Willie is one of the bullies that harmed Bobby and Carol in Part 1, and it shows what happened to him later in life.

Part 4 is about Vietnam and finally Part 5 is the wrap-up, if you can call it that.

The parts didn’t fit together for me, neither content-wise, nor in structure. For instance, Part 1 is narrated in the third person, past tense, where the story-teller describes Bobby and his friends, but focuses on the world from Bobby’s point of view. Third person, past tense, is the most basic and widely used approach in novels.

In Part 2, however, Pete, one of the Hearts players, tells the story in the first person.

In Part 3, King then switches to third person, present tense, only to switch back to third person, past tense in Part 4.

In Part 5, Bobby comes back as a late middle-aged man and visits his home town, third person, past tense.

If King weren’t such a good writer, this book would be a disastrous jumble of disconnected stories with no common thread.

Even after reading the whole book, I can’t quite tell you what it was actually about. I think it’s about Vietnam, the senseless war, and all senseless wars after that, but why did King bother with the elaborate setup and description of the Low Men in Yellow Coats and the enigmatic Ted Brautigan, who lived in the third floor apartment above Bobby and his mom? He could have left out the entire Part 1, and not lost a thing in the story. But then again, if it hadn’t been for Part 1, I would never have been able to work my way through the other parts. I kept wondering when Ted would come back.

Hearts in Atlantis is a challenging read, not one of Stephen King’s better ones, but still a truly great example of vivid story telling by a master.

This would be half a star, but King is so good, I give him an extra one.

 

Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) is one of the most formidable lobbyists in Washington. She is creative, but ruthless, and her reputation and success record indicates that she is ready to do whatever necessary to win. Along comes the NRA. They approach her firm and want her to take a case bolstering the NRA by attracting female voters for the cause. Since she does not agree with this message but rather has the opposite ideological view, she turns them down, and in the process ends up losing her job with her firm. She defects and takes half of her team with her.

Now the battle of her life is underway, where the opponent is the NRA, one of the most powerful special interests in Washington, represented by her old firm. The odds are impossible. But Miss Sloane always wins.

I watched Miss Sloane right after watching Molly’s Game and writing this review just yesterday. The two movies almost overlapped in my head, since Jessica Chastain plays a very similar person in both movies, a very bright, self-assured, articulate, determined maverick woman.

Miss Sloane was released in 2016, but it is a very timely film to watch now as its subject deals with gun control, the power of the NRA lobby, corruption in government as it relates to the Second Amendment. The movement the Florida high school kids set in motion after the most recent school massacre there relates perfectly to the topics Miss Sloane deals with.

Of course, I am not sure if Washington really works the way it is portrayed in this movie, but if it is, it’s frightening. It seemed very realistic to me, except for the remote-controlled cockroaches. You’ll just have to watch to find out what those are about!

Molly’s Game is a documentary-style movie with large narrated portions portraying the life and “career” of real-life Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain). During her youth, driven by aggressive parents (her father is played by Kevin Costner), she was an Olympic-class skier. After a serious accident she had to drop out of competitive skiing and eventually stumbled upon poker games. She put on games, got tips for her services, while she watched the elite gamble, and sometimes destroy each other’s lives. Like in most gambling environments, corruption and the mob was not far away, and things got complicated very quickly. Eventually she was arrested by the FBI, and large sections of the movie illustrate her interactions with her lawyer.

There isn’t that much going on in Molly’s Game, and while it kept my attention sufficiently to keep watching to see what happened next, I found it quite uninspiring. This is the kind of movie you can watch while doing other things to keep your attention. I played Sudoko on my smartphone to keep my mind busy while Molly’s Game ambled along.

Forgettable.

Here is an insightful essay about Michelle Wolf’s speech at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner – the one that Trump didn’t have the guts to attend two years in a row, written by one of my favorite Alaskans. Here is the punchline:

The Republican Party didn’t have to put a living joke in the White House; they didn’t have to support a man so corrupt and so incompetent that every spokesperson for him has had to bend over backwards lying for him only to find the man debunking their own spin even as they spin it. They didn’t have to make themselves so contemptible.

For the rest of his post, click on the link below.

The second most memorable thing Michelle Wolf said at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner was that; “people are saying America is more divided than ever.” Okay, at face value, the line itself isn’t all that memorable, but her speech and the reaction to it fairly illustrate the very point, which is memorable in my book. […]

via Hypocrisy Howled at the Wolf — northierthanthou

We have all heard about Phil Knight, the founder of Nike. He is a prominent philanthropist and American business icon. Today, in 2018, if you look him up, his net worth is listed at $30 billion. Phil Knight is one of the richest people in the country, even the world.

I just wrote a post about billionaires, and how I feel about them. This is very timely, and I suggest you read it before you move on here. Referenced within that post is yet another post about Vilifying Billionaires, which also has meaning in the context of this book review.

We have our preconceived ideas about billionaires and business icons. In this memoir of his life and the creation of Nike, Phil Knight tells his story in such a captivating manner that I felt like I was there with him in the early days. Shoe Dog is not about a shoe company, or a man creating a shoe company from scratch.

It’s about starting and growing a business, building the American dream. Everyone dreams of not working for “the man,” but being “the man.” Everyone dreams about starting a business, being one’s own boss, being independent, and of course, becoming wealthy in the process.

The bleak, frightening, brutal reality, however, is that 90% of all startups fail. Here are the main reasons why:

Fortune.com [click here for source]

I started a business over 25 years ago, and that business is still here, creating jobs, valuable services, and a livelihood for me. So I understood what Phil Knight went through when he started his shoe company in 1964.

There is something universal about a business: you have a payroll. It does not seem like a big thing when you start a business, but it hits you very, very quickly. Every two weeks you have to write paychecks for your employees, and then another set of checks for payroll taxes for the federal and state governments. In the 25 years I have been in business, there have been 650 payroll days. Every. Other. Friday. Payroll day comes, relentlessly. It comes even when your sales are down and you’re not making a profit. It comes when your biggest customer holds up a major payment. It comes after you had a major equipment breakdown and you needed additional cash to get it fixed. Payroll day comes, whether you have money in the bank, or not. And when you don’t have money in the bank, you have no choice but put some there. You first take all the money you have personally and put it there. You take cash advances on your credit cards. You borrow. And you have major, major stress. Every. Two. Weeks.

There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who are responsible for payroll, and those who are not. Phil Knight was responsible for payroll, and he did what he had to do to keep his company moving forward. Every step of the way, he knew that he was just one financial mishap away from total, catastrophic failure. When you run out of cash, you go out of business. See the chart above: 29% of businesses run out of cash.

And then there are problems. Problems with suppliers. Problems with the government and regulations. Problems with employees. Problems with product quality. Problems with market demand. The problems don’t care that you are stressing out over cash for payroll. Problems keep haunting you on Christmas Day or during Thanksgiving dinner. Problems keep you up at night.

Shoe Dog guides the reader through Phil Knight’s journey of creating Nike from scratch and growing it to a world-wide leader in athletic shoes. Anyone who ever even remotely thought about starting a business needs to read Shoe Dog.

After that, you come and tell me why Phil Knight didn’t “deserve” to be a billionaire.

Hey, go ahead! Start a shoe company. It’s easy, right?

Recently I found this one in my social media feed from an unidentified person under @SunsetSocialist:

I’m really sick of being told that there are “good billionaires.” Hoarding billions of dollars for literally NO REASON while most human beings starve to death is an action so evil that it’s almost unparalleled. They’re all moral monsters, plain and simple.

I am not a billionaire. But I am aghast when I read SunsetSocialist’s drivel.

Having money is “hoarding?” How much money do you have to have before you are a money hoarder? A hundred dollars? A thousand? A hundred thousand? A million? A billion? Does SunsetSocialist get to set the threshold just above his own net worth, so he is not a hoarder, but everyone wealthier than he is?

And what’s with “most human beings starve to death?” That is just not accurate.

Global Poverty Facts

Here are some statistics that show the scale of global poverty and its devastating effects.

1) 767 million people, or 10.7 percent of the population, live in extreme poverty with less than $1.90 per day.

2) 2.1 billion people live on less than $3.10 per day.

3) 328 million children are living in extreme poverty.

4) At least 17 million children suffer from severe acute under nutrition around the world. Severe acute malnutrition is the direct cause of death for 1 million children every year.

5) Every single day, 1,000 children under 5 die from illnesses like diarrhea, dysentery, and cholera caused by contaminated water and inadequate sanitation.

— source: Global Poverty and Hunger

While I do think it is tragic that 10 percent of the world’s population live in extreme poverty (and one might call that “starving to death”) I do not think it is my job, or my neighbor’s job, or some billionaire’s job, to feed those people. We give what we can. My question to SunsetSocialist is: How much does he give from his stash to feed the global hungry? What percentage of his income does he contribute every month? After he tells us that, he has a right to suggest how much an unnamed billionaire should be contributing. I suspect that most billionaires are already contributing percentage-wise way more than SunsetSocialist does – but I am speculating.

I just read that Phil Knight of Nike gives away $100 million a year, every year. Really, really evil!

They are all moral monsters.

Aha, all of them. I wonder how many billionaires SunsetSocialist has actually met, and would be qualified to judge for their morality?

Billionaires are people. There are going to be good ones, and not so good ones. I choose to judge people by their deeds, by their actions, by their legacy, and not by some label.

This reminds me of a post I wrote about three years ago about vilifying billionaires. Here is the link again. I stand by every word I wrote then.

There you have it, SunsetSocialist!

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