The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty

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The Book of the Week is “The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, How We Lie to Everyone– Especially Ourselves” by Dan Ariely, published in 2012.

The author presented one way human beings think about ethical behavior in a given situation: the Simple Model of Rational Crime (SMORC). It says someone would do a cost / benefit analysis in order to decide, for instance, whether to park illegally because they’re late for a meeting. Of course, a major factor in their decision-making includes how likely they are to get caught, and if they are caught, how willing they would be to bear the consequences.

The author wrote that SMORC doesn’t take emotion and trust into account, so most people wouldn’t engage in that kind of moral reasoning. With only reciprocity as the sole consideration, an individual using SMORC would require contracts for almost every ethical dilemma. He would spend most of his life in legal battles and litigation; like, Howard Hughes, Ted Turner, and Donald Trump.

Although the author failed to distinguish between guilt and shame, he cited numerous behavioral-economics studies he and other professors conducted (on mostly American subjects) to learn the causes of dishonest behavior, and ways it can be curbed.

The author realized that in a matter of weeks, even he was getting brainwashed by the propaganda of his bosses, because he was receiving generous compensation for serving as an expert witness.

Two ways to reduce cheating included:

  • Having people read or sign an honor-code document (such as the Ten Commandments, or an agreement not to cheat on an exam, or a set of rules, which, if broken, would give them an unfair advantage) before completing a particular task, taking a test, or competing.
  • Having people put their signature at the top of a document, and then fill in the info (such as on an application or tax return), rather than fill in the info and then sign at the bottom.

Read the book to learn of additional ways society can spread more ethical behavior (yes, it can be contagious!) so as to stave off the collapse of modern civilization just a little longer.

Davos Man

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The Book of the Week is “Davos Man, How the Billionaires Devoured the World” by Peter S. Goodman, published in 2022. As the now-cliche joke goes, “You can tell Monopoly is an ancient game because there’s a luxury tax and rich people can go to jail.”

Yearly, about three thousand, super-rich people gather in Switzerland at a five-day conference called “Davos.” The least wealthy people there consist of journalists, academics, diplomats, entrepreneurs, activists and senior government officials. The billionaire-attendees (whom the author called “Davos Man”) pay lip service to the world’s social, economic and environmental problems, and behind closed doors, discuss how to profiteer in connection therewith.

In the last half century, Davos Man has enriched himself through making campaign contributions to politicians who have legislated:

  • monopolistic practices
  • tax cuts
  • excessive deregulation and
  • gutting of social programs.

The above favor powerful, rich people in Silicon Valley, New York City and Washington, D.C. Their propaganda campaigns brainwash the masses into blaming:

  • China
  • immigrants whom they believe are taking their jobs away, and
  • automation

for the working classes’ job losses.

The author argued that the common people in most industrialized nations of the world should blame DAVOS MAN and politicians, who are sometimes one and the same!

Davos Man– the modern-day Robber Barons– salve their consciences through philanthropic activities that are comprised of a tiny, tiny percentage of their businesses’ profits. Plus, the author contended that it is a Cosmic Lie that tax cuts pay for themselves by spurring spending.

During the COVID pandemic, the American Davos Man enriched himself through incestuous corporate / political relationships: “The United States had employed a Rube Goldberg contraption, with [Steven] Mnuchin’s slush fund [in the U.S. Treasury] funneled through Jamie Dimon’s bank [JPMorgan Chase], and Larry Fink’s firm [BlackRock] buying bonds on behalf of the Fed, allowing Steve Schwartzman’s private equity empire [Blackstone Group] to borrow for free.”

The English government convinced many of its people that through Brexit, their nation could decide its own financial fate. But Davos Man actually ended up collecting a boatload of their hard-earned taxes. Meanwhile, Argentina was defaulting on its loans for the tenth time in the last half-century. The aforementioned Davos Man, Larry Fink, blamed Argentina for the resulting disastrous losses of his clients at BlackRock. BUT– his firm was the sucker that lent it the money!

Anyway, read the book to learn of: Davos Man’s activities in various countries of the world– that resulted in skyrocketing wealth for him, and plummeting economic security for everyone else; why the author is still optimistic that the world can reverse the current, cold-hearted global financial climate in which inequality between rich and poor is ever-widening (hint: creative ideas on community cooperatives are in the air, but also– read Amy Klobuchar’s tome on antitrust issues); and the economic history explaining how Davos Man has become so rich and powerful.

All American

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The Book of the Week is “All American, The Rise and Fall of Jim Thorpe” by Bill Crawford, published in 2005.

America’s tradition of holding a Thanksgiving Day college-football game began in the early 1890’s. The schools with football teams practiced profiteering from the get-go. They charged fans admission to the games, and gambling was rampant; even in preseason games. Even among the coaches– who themselves, sometimes played in the games. The coaches also made obscene salaries, even then.

Football had no passing, only rushing, until 1895. And hardly any rules: with respect to creative plays, and preventing injuries. There was unnecessary roughness galore, not to mention minimal, if any, protective equipment, and fan interference was sometimes allowed. Officials arbitrarily enforced the few rules there might have been. Play continued in all kinds of weather.

Born in May 1887 in Oklahoma, Jim Thorpe received most of his education on sports fields, although he was supposed to have been in school. His mother was of Native American, Irish and French origin. At sixteen years old, Thorpe began attending Carlisle Indian Industrial School. It was a military-style trade school for Native Americans where they could live on-campus.

In 1903, the Carlisle team tricked the Harvard Crimson with a play in which a Carlisle player hid the ball under the back of his jersey while his teammates hid their helmets under their jerseys so the opposing team couldn’t find the ball until its actual holder had run into the end zone for a touchdown.

Another dirty trick involved sewing an image of half a football onto various players’ jerseys, making it unclear as to which receiver caught the ball, to trick the opposing team’s defense. But, there was still no penalty for pass-interference, so receivers could be tackled before touching the ball. All of them. Even if they didn’t have the ball.

It should be noted that other, better-funded teams had tens of players who could enter the game anytime, whereas Carlisle had a tiny team whose players were both offense and defense.

In 1906, the newly formed NCAA established specific rules that dramatically reduced injuries, but failed to address the financial shenanigans that have greatly enriched colleges and individuals for the past century.

In 1907, when he was twenty, Thorpe joined the Carlisle football team, which had been coached by Glenn Warner since 1899. Warner headed the school’s Athletic Association, but he was not an employee of the school. So he got paid by a profit-making organization, which got its revenues through gate receipts of sports-competitions hosted by the school– football, baseball, track, etc.

Since Carlisle was a school for Native Americans, it received full federal funding for tuition, room and board for all its students. The Association didn’t have to award tuition-scholarships. Coach Warner used the Association as his personal piggy bank.

Yet another part of Warner’s job that has characterized football coaches since time immemorial, was to hush up the bad behavior of his players so as to squelch bad publicity the school would receive when players got drunk and destroyed property or got into fights, broke school rules or NCAA rules, etc.

Read the book to learn of what an exceptionally excellent multi-sport athlete Thorpe was (though he played mostly football; hint: “Twice Thorpe managed to run downfield and catch his own punts” and on one of those receptions, he shook off three or four tacklers to run twenty yards to score a touchdown.); the scandal surrounding him; and much more about his life and the tenor of the times in “amateur” sports.

We Were the Future

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The Book of the Week is “We Were the Future, A Memoir of the Kibbutz” by Yael Neeman, published in 2016. Readers might argue that the author and her cohorts were raised in a cult– brainwashed from birth. The kibbutz movement strove for 100% socialism– the economic system in which all the people (not the State) collectively owned everything; and collectively governed themselves.

In 1947, the total population of kibbutzim as a proportion of Israel’s (Jewish) population reached a high of 7%. It waned after Israel achieved sovereignty in 1948. The first half of the 1950’s saw global historical events (the trials of: Prague [1952], the Doctors in the U.S.S.R. and the Rosenbergs in the U.S. [both 1953]) that were jarring to Jews. The kibbutz movement split over ideological disagreements, especially after Stalin died in 1953 and his crimes were revealed in 1956. Adults around the the author held zero discussions about this recent history.

Neeman was born in 1960 in Kibbutz Yehiam (founded in 1946) in Western Galilee near the border with Lebanon. Her kibbutz was a branch of Hashomer Hatzair (meaning “Young Guard”), the movement’s umbrella organization that began in 1913. Their motto was, “For Zionism, Socialism and Brotherhood Amongst Nations.” Her children’s group consisted of eight boys and eight girls, who did everything together, every day. She was raised among them by women who collectively took care of the kibbutz’s children grouped by age; she visited with her biological parents, but didn’t live with them in the same building.

The lifestyle encompassed a number of major ideas:

  • “Family and education in the rest of the industrial world were considered bourgeois institutions.”
  • “Everyone knew after all, that work [on the kibbutz] was more important than school, more important than anything.”
  • Egalitarianism for all the people was key– all decisions were made by committee.

Contradictorily:

  • There was a hierarchical division of labor– upper and lower. The former consisted of high-level positions in the fields and factories; held by the founders of the kibbutz, the (mostly Hungarian) First of May group. The latter consisted of low-skilled, dead-end jobs such as peeling potatoes.
  • The kibbutz undertook a number of enterprises through the years, including a banana “plantation” which was the most “profitable.” [these words with nuanced meanings were translated from Hebrew, but even so, these were capitalist endeavors.]

Kids whose behavior was troublesome were exiled from the kibbutz, and sent to a “special institution.” At twelve years old, all the conforming kids began to attend what amounted to boarding school, located off the kibbutz campus. They had previously received an eclectic education of hands-on instruction on a myriad of topics. Beginning in adolescence, they were allowed to shape their own education, or lack thereof.

Currently, analogous experiments are underway in American education in which adolescents are placed in front of computer screens with no teachers. Educrats and profiteers expect the software to teach them. At that age, most kids have neither the judgment nor the discipline to acquire the knowledge and skills required for becoming mature, responsible adults who can financially support themselves.

Kibbutzniks were afforded too much freedom and not enough guidance and supervision within their tiny, limited community in their early childhood. So they had a rude awakening when they were permitted (on rare occasions) to see how other kids in the rest of the world lived.

One other interesting factoid: Neeman wrote, “In our biological home, we [she and her three siblings] were already allowed to smoke on Purim when we were in the first grade.”

Read the book to learn about a boatload of other ways Neeman’s upbringing was extremely unconventional due to her fledgling homeland’s exceptionalism.

On Shaky Ground

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The Book of the Week is “On Shaky Ground, An Invitation to Disaster” by John J. Nance, published in 1988. Prediction of earthquakes is an age-old issue that can be improved, if enough money and political support is thrown at it, in connection with studying the geologic, tectonic, volcanic and geophysical problems that crop up along fault lines.

Even in 1960 when a major earthquake hit Chile, there was disagreement among scientists over the behavior of underground structures. The opposing theories consisted of “steep vertical fault” and “shallow, sub-horizontal dip-slip fault.”

To that time, ivory-tower “experts” at Caltech relied on only seismograph data for ideas. In the coming decades, graduate students looked elsewhere to disprove the old theories. One young scientist personally, physically surveyed a large swath of the topography of the Alaskan countryside. His data disproved the steep vertical fault theory. Another graduate student became a pioneer in paleoseismology, which identify the substances piled up underground in an earthquake zone, showing how they changed and moved over the course of millennia.

In the early 1960’s, the U.S. government and military were the major employers in the city of Anchorage in Alaska. They were eager to urbanize the place, and construction was booming. They ignored a pesky report issued in 1961 by the U.S. Geological Survey warning that the city’s underground foundation– Bootlegger Cove Clay– would be unstable in the event of an earthquake. Building codes were lax on structural soundness.

Alas, a major earthquake hit the area in March of 1964. The epicenter was under Unakwik inlet in North Prince William Sound, ten miles from Valdez, Anchorage and Seward, Alaska. Many structures collapsed, including but far from limited to: docks, warehouses, a newly opened J.C. Penney store and a Four Seasons apartment building.

The underground clay became liquid, causing the location of oil, army and cannery docks, and railroad yards to shift many feet. Fortunately, there had been regulation of natural gas lines. They had been programmed to shut off in an emergency, and they did, preventing explosions and fires. However, wooden buildings swayed instead of collapsing, but they burned in fires when a Texaco fuel tank exploded.

As fate would have it, the Seismological Society of America happened to be holding its annual meeting in Seattle, on the campus of the University of Washington on that very day. But news of the disaster in those days took hours to reach them. As is well known, communications technology has come a long way since 1987, when there were different radio systems for Los Angeles’ more than one hundred and forty police and fire jurisdictions.

The seismic waves generated vibrations in numerous other places around the world. The quake’s severity was “off the charts” given the existing technology for measuring such activity. Four tsunamic waves spanning twelve thousand square miles of Alaska’s sea floor was felt as far away as Hawaii, and swamped Vancouver Island. Seward’s economy was ruined, as it was based on oil, fishing, import/export, railway transportation, and boating.

Sadly, human beings have short memories; possibly because they’ve become desensitized to cautionary tales. Greed eventually results in business as usual. Political candidates in at-risk communities are loath to spend precious campaign time on safety regulations– their donors benefit financially from disasters. In recent decades, American communities have become wise to the fact that they can always apply for federal aid when they are hit by a disaster (whose loss of life and property damage could have been minimized!).

Anyway, read the book to learn about additional disasters in China, California, Mexico, South Carolina, and much more about the science of earthquakes, and the mentalities of the people in connection therewith.

Cuba on the Verge

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The Book of the Week is “Cuba on the Verge, 12 Writers on Continuity and Change in Havana and Across the Country” edited by Leila Guerriero, published in 2017.

After Cuban leader Fidel Castro died in November 2016, there was a slight relaxation of economic restraints on the common people. Under the one-party rule of Castro’s brother Raul, Cubans could engage in entrepreneurial pursuits– serving tourists through renting out their homes or turning their cars into taxis, supervised by the government. Americans have begun doing the same in the last two decades, but through centralized corporate entities such as Airbnb and Uber.

Ironically, under Fidel’s leadership, Cuba developed a reputation for literacy and affordable, quality healthcare; during which time, America developed a reputation for deleterious (greedy!) practices in education and healthcare.

At the book’s writing, Cuba required working mothers to take paid maternity leave halfway through their eighth month; the paid leave continued for four and a half months after the births. An additional year was optional, for which mothers received sixty percent of their wages. Further, abortions were not only legal, but used as a form of contraception, with neither shame nor emotional hysteria generated by political activists, attached. On the other hand, the Cuban government spies on its people 24/7.

Cuban children are taught sex education beginning in the fifth grade. So kids are sexually precocious, as they learn from their older siblings. They are casual about relationships, so there are no hard feelings when families become fragmented, but there are many latchkey children, and males dominate.

After the Soviet Union broke up, Moscow’s government no longer funded Cuba’s economy. Beginning in the 1990’s, this “Special Period” saw severe shortages of basic consumer goods such as health and beauty aids and clothing, not to mention food. Unsurprisingly, domestic violence spiked.

People sold their jewelry at government trading posts in order to survive. They received mostly Panamanian goods in return. They adopted casual dress all the time– flip-flops, shorts, T-shirts– even where formal clothing had been worn previously, such as the theater. Counterfeit big-name goods flooded the market, sourced mostly from Miami, Panama, Madrid and China.

Yet another cultural change included males’ taking on of domestic chores and child-rearing, as more women could earn money through prostituting themselves. Socially-skilled men collected and sold coconuts from private properties, or sought out sexual relationships with visiting of out-of-town women who paid their everyday expenses.

Read the book to learn of the numerous other ways Cuba changed in the 1990’s, and ways it hasn’t– such as in its practices of numerology and witchcraft and in its love of baseball.

Warnings

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The Book of the Week is “Warnings, Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes” by Richard A. Clarke and R.P. Eddy, published in 2017. The authors explored the concept of “sentinel intelligence” which means that certain members of humanity have a sixth sense for future dangerous occurrences. The one who issues a warning in connection therewith, is called a “Cassandra.” The Initial Occurrence Syndrome means humans find difficulty in acknowledging that an extremely improbable event could happen, simply because it has never happened before.

The authors recounted various instances in which Cassandras spoke up prior to horrible events. A few of the events they described should not count in the annals of Cassandra-warnings; wars, for instance. There are going to be needless deaths and ruined lives in any and all wars. Predicting what is going to happen when tensions are rising in the hotspots of the world is not rocket science. Those who see them are not Cassandras. People like them are basically Nostradamus. He got famous in the 1500’s for “predicting” all kinds of catastrophes that are inevitably going to happen to human beings, such as wars, pestilence and natural disasters, over the course of centuries.

Also, the authors failed to define “catastrophes” referred to in their book’s title. They might want to refine their description of Cassandra events. The difference between Nostradamus’ and Cassandra’s premonitions is in the specificity: Cassandras identify one individual and/or entities around whom or which one specialized scandal is brewing, or describe signals around which, say, a natural disaster, financial crash or pandemic is coming, within a relatively short time frame (i.e., a Jeffrey Epstein or a Chernobyl).

One good example the authors provided, was the Bernard Madoff scandal. Madoff was a specific criminal– a power broker who harmed a significant number of people in a community. The circumstances were not a general, ongoing situation like welfare fraud or insider trading.

However, the situation still all boils down to how one defines “catastrophe.” There were various Cassandras who claimed to know the different events associated with Donald Trump that have actually come to pass. If one defines his getting elected in 2016 for instance as a catastrophe because the community harmed was the entire United States, then yes, its qualifies as a Cassandra event.

Anyway, the authors explained how a Cassandra in the securities industry helped forward the women’s movement. She issued a warning before a financial crash. She garnered kudos when she turned out to be correct. At the book’s writing, though, another female Cassandra issued a warning in the field of public health. Of course, a white male made a sexist remark about her appearance in an ad hominem attack. That’s how critics seek to discredit female Cassandras.

In another of the authors’ Cassandra cases, in July 2004, the federal U.S. agency FEMA (which provides disaster assistance) and the Army Corps of Engineers held a severe-storm-drill in the New Orleans area, but didn’t take it too seriously. Insufficient funding was provided to make specific plans regarding evacuation-transportation for people who were unable or unwilling to heed the evacuation order.

Nevertheless, the Coast Guard and (federal agency) Wildlife and Fisheries did. At the end of August 2005, they were somewhat prepared when Hurricane Katrina actually hit Louisiana. But hilarity did not ensue. Many needless deaths and ruined lives did, as the aforesaid New Orleans residents couldn’t be evacuated. Of course, the exacerbated disaster aftermath was caused by honest ineptitude, profiteering and opportunism rather than malicious intent. Beforehand, there were a few Cassandras who tried to tell others that a “Katrina” was on the way.

The reason Cassandras aren’t listened to, is that they tend to be gadflies in their organizations. There are: clashing egos, jealousy, and inter-agency rivalries. Cassandras are outspoken, and their mouths get them in trouble. They begin their careers as idealists, and usually end up disillusioned, frustrated, cynical and emotionally burned out. They embarrass powerful and/or monied groups whose support they need to keep their jobs.

Read the book to learn about many more Cassandra events, and the authors’ suggestions for encouraging Cassandras to come forward (Hint: one idea is to revive the White House group from the Reagan Era that evaluated foreign policy threats– but expand it, to take other kinds of disaster-preparedness measures).

People’s Republic of China – BONUS POST

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This is the song Janet Yellen is singing now.

PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA

sung to the tune of “Hotel California” with apologies to The Eagles.

In a busy Asian city, bright lights in my eyes,
the stink of cigarette smoke, crowds in every high rise.
Given the agenda, I tried to relax.
The talks were heavy and deal chances slim.
It’s all spies and hacks.

I was geared to debate there. I heard the opening bell.
I was thinking to myself– so much stress. I hope I stay well.
Then they fed me their specialties, and they showed me the way.
The media waited in the corridor. Thought I heard someone say,

Welcome to the People’s Republic of China.
Such a lovely place.
Such a lovely place.
But they’re in the rat race.
Plenty of excess in the People’s Republic of China.
Oppression and fear.
Oppression and fear.
Paradoxes here.

They’ve got top officials– they got fancy cars.
They got factories and technology, they might go to Ma-ars.
How they danced in our peace talks. Overtures and threats.
We jockeyed for position. A treaty is anyone’s bet.

I said to my hostess, you’ve got a great crew.
They said we haven’t had that spirit here since 1972.

And still we put up a front in all-ll we say.
We talked circles around human rights; be reasonable– okay?

Welcome to the People’s Republic of China.
Such a lovely place.
Such a lovely place.
Always saving face.
Livin’ it up in the People’s Republic of China.
Put on a good show.
Put on a good show,
till it’s time to go.

Warships and solar panels, semiconductors and rice.
We’re all just prisoners here, of our own device.
And as part of the ceremony,
we gathered for the press.
They stab it with their steely words but it’s still an economic mess.

This was a trip to remember, as I headed for the door.
Haven’t made much progress from the place I was before.
These talks scratched the surface. But I was gladly received.
We’re entrenched countries joined at the hip, we can NEVER leave.