Notable Notaries

The other day presented an opportunity to witness a terrific slice of Americana. “Witness” is the operative word, as my sister and I needed to sign nine closing documents in front of a notary and two witnesses, who also happened to be notaries all of whom worked at our bank.

What fascinated me as I was driving to send by Fedex the documents to the attorney, is the realization of the demographic make up of our legal witnesses. While all female, one was an American whose accent reflected an Eastern Europe upbringing. The second was an American of Mideastern heritage, while the third was an African-American.

To me, this moment of reflection made me proud to be an American. Our melting pot of immigrants makes our country a great place. To be hyper-critical of immigrants and people who do not look like you do tears at the fabric that makes us great.

For our President to convey a message that some people are more American than others is hogwash. Another’s rights are just as important as mine, not more or less. That is what makes America great not running down others who some feel are less a citizen than they are.

The Teacher Asked

The teacher asked little Johnny if he took Susie’s lunch money. Johnny said he did not. The teacher had seen this before.

She asked him again if he took Susie’s money. He replied more angrily and said how dare someone accuse him of such? Someone is making this story up.

Still unsatisfied, she told Johnny that she has strong evidence that he may be the culprit. Johnny stood firm saying “my enemies are out to get me. And, she gave me the money.”

The teacher said “so, you are admitting to having the money?” Johnny said “Susie gave it to me and if she says she did not then she is lying, believe me.”

The teacher asked if he was sticking with that story. When he said yes, she said “well let’s go down to Principal Mueller’s office and look at the videotape of you going into Susie’s backpack.”

At some point, most children learn that when caught in a lie, it is better to come clean. If you keep lying, more trouble will ensue.

Picture two men with the same name, one a father and one a son. The elder man never learned this lesson, so how could he teach his son not to lie. Principal Mueller may have a say in this, as well.

America’s diversity is what matters

During this past election and until today, I get a sense from some that they feel they are more American than others. In my view that belief devalues what it means to be an American. We are the melting pot of the world and have first through multi-generation people living here whose ancestors were born in every populated continent on earth.

Our strength is in our diversity. And, while far from perfect, these diverse peoples do tend to integrate better with other cultures than in other places. Could we do better, absolutely?

One of the best movies of last year was simply called “Loving.” While the movie was about love, the title is about the first interracially married couple in Virginia named the Lovings. The Lovings successfully challenged a law banning their marriage winning a Supreme Court victory of 9 to 0. That was in the 1960s. Now, interracial marriages are about 1 out of seven marriages.

We don’t have this democracy thing down, but we should strive to live up to our ideals the best we can. And, if someone thinks they are more American than you or vice-versa, you both are wrong. My freedoms are no more important than anyone else’s, but they are no less either. That is how it works.

We are diverse. We are imperfect. And, yes we are Americans.

Undoing how we make decisions

Best-selling author Michael Lewis’ latest book is called “The Undoing Project – A Friendship that Changed our Minds” which focuses on how we make decisions. Two transplanted Israeli psychologists named Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky partnered together for years and were acclaimed for their work in showing we are less rational decision-makers than we think we are, especially where risk is involved.

In short, we include our biases in how we interpret data and probabilities, so we do not all see the issue the same way. But, even more telling is we can be influenced by how the question is posed to us. Their analysis eventually led to a Nobel Prize in Economics, which was awarded to Kahneman after Tversky had passed away. The reason is their work created a new breed of economics called “Behavioral Economics.” But, their work had converts using it in the practice of medicine, setting public policy and even in making NBA draft picks. They ask that people step back and question things. Your bias may lead you to pick the most improbable cause or choice, so if you question yourself and others you may find the best probable path forward.

The other key takeaway is the tremendous partnership these two had over the years. They were very different personalities, yet it was difficult for them to know who had more input into their work. They often flipped a coin to decide whose name should go first in a paper. Their partnership was so constructive, it was difficult on people in the US who tend to believe one of the partners was a greater contributor. Tversky, being more outgoing and confident, was more easily and incorrectly thought of as the lead. Kahneman questioned everything even when he was far more right than wrong, so he came across as less confident. Ironically, it was his questioning things that challenged Tversky to reconsider strong positions. They yin and yanged like an old married couple.

It would be difficult for me to define their work in such a short piece, so let me share some of their examples which may be illustrative. Their most famous piece is called “Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk.” If you were given two options where (1) gave you a 50% chance to win $1,000 and (2) provided a gift of $500, most people would pick (2) as a sure thing. Yet, if the question is reframed and the two options were (3) which gave you 50% chance to lose $1,000 and (4) which provided a sure loss of $500, most everyone would pick (3) the gamble.

As they dived further into questions like this, they discovered that people would regret losing the sure thing as they did not have the money, yet were more risky with money they did not have. When they altered the probability of winning or losing, the same result would occur, even when the odds were much more in your favor to win (or not lose). But, they also learned how the questions were framed made a huge difference.

If an Asian disease was expected to kill 600 people and you could take one of the following actions, which one would you choose where Option (1) would save 200 people and (2) had a 1/3 chance of saving all 600 and a 2/3 chance of saving none? Most people chose Option (1) to save 200 people. Yet, if the question is framed as Option (3) where 400 people would die and (4) where there is a 1/3 chance none would die and 2/3 chance all would die, most people chose Option (4). Yet, it is the same question.

Another key concept they introduced through study is “representativeness.” If you added information to a question, people would believe the greater accuracy meant they should choose that option. This would even be true if the information added was irrelevant or unimportant. In other words, if something is described in more detail than other options, it creates an information bias. They illustrated this to be true with experts in a field, as well as with laypersons.

Lewis uses the example of medical doctor who embraced Kahneman and Tversky’s work named Don Redelmeier. Redelmeier would question quick conclusions by doctors made under stress, where they would use information bias. A good example came when a car accident left a woman with an irregular heartbeat after they treated her. The doctors hung their hat on the fact she had a medical history of excess thyroid hormones and just assumed that was causing the irregularity.

Yet, this was a remote probability. They were led down this path because of the extra piece of information. Redelmeier had them question this remote idea and look further. It turned out the more likely cause was indeed the reason for the irregular heartbeat – a collapsed lung from the accident. Because they had more information on a condition, they stopped looking for other causes that did not obviously surface.

I encourage you to read the book for the two reasons Lewis wrote it. It is more than just the work of Kahneman and Tversky on making decisions. It is also about how two different people can collaborate so successfully and be far more together than they were separately. They valued this partnership and made it work well for them and us.

Note: Lewis also wrote “The Blind Side,” “Moneyball,” “Liar’s Poker” and “The Big Short,” to name a few.


Is it thrifty or environmentally friendly

I have mentioned in the past I am both a tree hugger and capitalist. On the latter, I like to spend money wisely. But, it goes hand-in-hand with being environmentally friendly, as conserving resources is both cost effective and good for the environment.

My wife laughs at me as I will eat leftovers for several days. She will usually join in for one more meal, but she will abstain from further meals. It gives me satisfaction to finish food off. This is especially true as we as a country throw so much food away. And, I hate to throw food away.

We are also doing our best to drink filtered tap water. My wife tells folks my husband won’t let me buy plastic bottled water. She likes to tease me about things like this as many spouses do. However, I can assure you my wife won’t do anything unless she agrees with it. She understands this will keep from adding to the floating plastic in the Pacific.

We also live in an area of the city which is a couple of miles away from three shopping areas of various sizes. As I like to walk, I often will become a pedestrian shopper. It saves on gas emissions and gets me some needed exercise. And, since most car accidents occur within a mile from home, it helps me with the odds.

I mention these three things as they are easy things to do to save money and the environment.  I am sure each of us have things we could do that would save on both. What are some of your actions?

So, it is more than OK to be a little thrifty. Of course, my wife threatens me to not to turn into her mother who raised five kids on her father’s salary.

Dad did good

My Dad had a hard life growing up. His parents split up early and neither played a big role in his formative years. Fortunately, he was provided a safety net that would not let him fail. He was raised by his Great Aunt and Uncle.

His Uncle ran a general store in a small Georgia town. My Dad was asked to help out there. This eventually led my Dad to start his career with a regional supermarket after college and a stint in the Navy. More on that later.

He went to college in north Georgia, but it was under a required work study program.  You had to work to attend and that was the only way the students could afford the tuition costs. He met my mother there and they married in 1951 and moved to Jacksonvulle, FL.

He had a stint in the Navy when the Korean Conflict started joining with several friends. Serving on an aircraft carrier, he learned of 25 second showers, discipline and visited some exotic places,  Once home, he decided soon a supermarket career was not for him. Even with his low salary, he would have to cover bounced checks as a manager.

He and his good friend George decided to move into this career called data processing, the precursor to IT. He worked for a regional insurance company and eventually worked his way up. He was there until he retired in the early 1990s.

He and my Mom raised us three kids. She was a schoolteacher. I mentioned in my last post in a comment that he would pitch batting practice to me after work and coached me on occasion. He was a very good athlete in college playing basketball, baseball and track.

He also was a great outdoor cook. He would love to smoke hams and turkeys, and cooked a mean roast and chicken. He would tease us saying the chicken did not have any wings, as he would sample them outside. His team would have indoor office picnics and he would usually bring a ham or turkey. They tended to request this of him.

He and my Mom were a great couple, married for 54 years. He died too early after a life of smoking and drinking, even though he quit both a dozen years before he passed. Like me, my Dad was an alcoholic. I stopped drinking myself the year after he died.

When he passed in 2006, there were a half dozen couples that met in college like my parents and were still together that came to his funeral. He was remembered well, but it was a tribute to Mom, too. My Dad was not perfect, but he was a good man, husband and father. I love you Dad. Your lessons are remembered and appreciated.

Saturday musings

Happy Father’s Day to all fathers. If your father has passed, remember something about him that makes you smile. On the day before Father’s Day, let me offer some random musings.

Amazon is buying Whole Foods. This might be scary to all grocers, especially those who pride themselves on premium products. Distribution of ordered food will have to be well crafted and closer to the consumers to make it work, but my guess is Amazon will do better at it than others.

The City of Houston is the leading US city on renewable energy with over 89% of its electricity produced by renewables. Yet, it has a lot to lose with climate change given its sea level position and porous natural defenses. With the fossil fuel distribution centers in its harbor, it is ironic that the centers are in jeopardy due to sea level rise caused by burning fossil fuels.

Since I cannot pass on a couple news items from the White House, it is reported our Attorney General Jeff Sessions may have been more than just evasive in his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. He may have perjured himself. When he said he had not met any Russian lobbyists, he failed to recall he had one over to his house for dinner twice. What is equally troubling is this lobbyist wrote a speech for then candidate Trump.

In trying to push the Senate on a repeal and replace of the ACA, the President described the House AHCA Bill as “mean.” Mind you, this is the same bill he celebrated with a party of GOP House members on the White House lawn. That was before the CBO said the AHCA would result in 23 million Americans losing health care coverage. Note to Senators, you may want to get the CBO results before passing anything. The AHCA was “mean” before the party.

Finally, we must remember our tragedies and learn from them. The shooting of Republican congressmen tells us violence is not the answer and we must stop the polarized rhetoric. The tragic fire in London means safety checks mean safety checks.  We must value human life and do everything in our power to make well planned improvements to buildings that meet all standards. And, we cannot forget the Flint lead poisoning in the water piping.  A half a dozen Michigan government have been charged with manslaughter over the death of one man, but the culpability and damage goes further. Leaders ignored reports of the problem after making a cost cutting decision retap the Flint River.

That is all for today. Have a great weekend and be safe.