Monday, November 30, 2015

The Consumer Financial Protection Board And Anyone Involved In Creating It Should Be Ashamed. The Rest Of Us Should Be Advised.

Here's a hypothetical for you to consider using the variables below:

- I live in a suburban neighborhood
- I just bought a new car.
- I got the lowest possible APR due to my excellent credit score
- My last name is Mann

- My neighbor also just bought a new car
- My neighbor's last name is Morris
- My neighbor's APR was 30 basis points higher than mine because his credit score is lower

Now the Consumer Financial Protection Board, that great defender of hapless consumers of all races, colors and creeds, gets wind that there may be some shady goings on in the finance departments of auto dealers.  They suspect that these dealers, who are so blinded by their visceral hate of anyone who is not of the caucasian race, refuse to sell them cars unless they agree to pay more for them than their white counterparts.  It has to be true because, well, just because.  All that remains is to prove it and bring the criminals to justice.

So the CFPB has to decide how to go about proving it.  They demand the names and addresses of scores of customers from the nation's auto dealers and their financing arms. There's a problem though. Auto loan applications don't call out race.   The CFPB is at an impasse, but they're determined to get to the bottom of this so they have two choices:

1)  They can begin the tedious process of calling loan applicants to determine if they are in fact minority or white, as a preliminary step in deciding whether or not an ultimate determination of discrimination on the basis of race is warranted; or

2)  They can guess about the races of those applicants and use their guesses to bring charges and levy fines against the auto dealer's finance companies.

If they pick number one, the process will be very slow, but the information obtained will be useful and accurate and, accordingly, the judgments would be seen as fair, as long as they were consistent with the data.

If they pick option two, well that's just silly.  And on top of that it would drive up the costs of auto purchases for all consumers as auto dealers would more than likely adjust their rates consistently upward rather than downward to comply with the government's illogical (based on common procedures for underwriting risk) ideas about fairness and consistency with respect to auto loans.  But since, as one writer put it, "the CFPB doesn't take any risk and it bears no accountability."  Who cares if prices go up as long as they go up for everybody, regardless of their risk profile?  That would seem to be the CFPB's point of view.  Fairness prevails.

So there's the hypothetical scenario.

Which option do you think the ultra responsible and highly accountable CFPB selected? If you said option 1, you would be making a perfectly rational selection.  But you would be flat wrong.

Instead of treating businesses with the same fairness it claims to be seeking on behalf of consumers, the CFPB uses an algorithm that takes the last name and home address of the auto consumer and uses it to predict whether or not the consumer is a minority or white. There is no subsequent follow up to determine the level of accuracy of the guess.

We're not talking hypotheticals anymore.  This is really happening.  See the actual tool being used below:

How the Government Predicts Race and Ethnicity

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Justice Department predicted borrowers’ race and ethnicity by using an algorithm that analyzed 

last names and addresses.  They are now awarding $80 million in a car-lending discrimination settlement based on those findings. 

Auto lenders and car dealers say the technique is prone to errors.

Enter a surname and address to see how accurate the prediction is for you.
Note: Hispanic may be of any race. Names and addresses submitted are not retained by the Journal. Full addresses are sent to the Census Bureau to determine geographic region. This may produce slightly different results than the geocoding service used by CFPB. Entering an address will provide more accurate results than a ZIP Code.
Source: Consumer Financial Protection BureauU.S. Census Bureau, Department of Justice

So, solely on the basis of a bunch of guesses using the tool above, the CFPB has extorted over $200 million to date from several large finance companies, including Ally Financial, who coughed up $80 million without admitting wrongdoing so that its government application to become a holding company, which is critical to its continued survival, wouldn't be denied by bureaucrats on the basis of trumped up fairness in lending violations.

Oh, by the way, the CFPB's guesstimator determined that there is an 81.68% chance that I am white and 12.52% chance that I am black.  Bubba would beg to differ.

The guesstimator further determined that my neighbor, who is all white (and alright), had only a 71.53% chance of actually being white and 23.92% chance of being black.  I'm not making this up, I swear.  

Sadly, if the hypotheticals above were in play and the race element were determined using the guesstimator, the CFPB might actually us that data to bring racism charges against some unsuspecting dealer.

Though the CFPB was created by the Democratic Party, purportedly to protect the little guy, the issue just discussed is not about politics at all.  It is, however, about the little guy.  And it's worth noting, that every business, no matter its size, is a little guy when compared to the U.S. government.  Ally Financial has enormous resources at its disposal, yet it was brought to heel by a government whose influence over its citizens has continued to grow.

Thomas Jefferson warned that, "A government big enough to give you everything you want, is a government big enough to take away everything that you have."  

We should all be aware of that and should act accordingly.


Sunday, November 29, 2015

Jackie Robinson and Leadership

Midshipman Matt Miller shares a research paper below in which he explores the topic of leadership via the man who "broke the color barrier" in major league baseball.  It's both informative and thought provoking.  Enjoy.


Almost seventy years ago, there were 16 major league baseball teams embracing four

hundred white athletes. Then on April 15, 1947, that number dropped to three hundred and

ninety-nine white athletes and increased by just one black athlete. It was opening day at

Brooklyn Stadium. Fifty-two thousand baseball fans crowded rapidly into the stadium and

witnessed a historical event. Some fans screamed racial slurs. Others threw trash on the field.

This display of animosity and vexation was all because of one black man playing in a baseball

game, Jackie Robinson. The wonderful game of baseball has grown up with America and

Americans describe it as their friend. Beginning 177 years ago, the game, known as America's

favorite past time, was first played in 1829 at Harvard University. Professional baseball was

birthed in 1876, the same year the National League was formed. America’s baseball has always

mirrored society in general. For example, every game begins with a demonstration of patriotism

as shown by the singing of the National Anthem. Unfortunately, even the dark times of

American history have been displayed on the baseball field. Although the civil war was over,

racism was still present in society during the 1940’s. Professional baseball teams were

segregated. Black men formed their leagues because they were not allowed to participate in the

game with other white men. These Negro League teams produced great stars and over time

baseball began to notice. One man, in particular, Branch Rickey, who was the manager of the

Brooklyn Dodgers, took notice of the talent in the Negro Leagues. He also knew it would require

a special man to meet the challenges of being the first black man in the Major Leagues. After

sifting through hundreds of black player biographies, Branch Rickey decided that Jackie

Robinson was the right man. With the stroke of a pen, Jackie terminated his Negro League career

and signed with the Dodgers’ organization on August 19, 1945. Jackie Robinson had exceptional

talent and athletic ability. However, his leadership traits are what made Branch Ricky’s

experiment a success, crushing racial barriers, and forever changing the world of sports. Jackie

Robinson understood four key elements crucial to effective leadership. He knew that to do

something great, you had to be willing to stand-alone. He understood that often you win by not

fighting back. The support of others is crucial. Lastly and most importantly, Jackie Robinson

understood that possessing a conviction of “why” you are doing something makes the “what”

you are doing possible.

Great leaders must be willing to stand alone to make a difference. Jackie Robinson paid a

significant price for standing alone, but he decided to stop being a spectator and step up to

accomplish a greater purpose. He was willing to become part of Branch Rickey’s noble

experiment. Sukeforth, the scout who recruited Jackie, recalled Jackie’s first meeting with

Branch Ricky. "He just stared and stared; that's what he did with Robinson—stared at him as if

he were trying to get inside the man (Rampersad 126).” At this meeting, Rickey made it clear

that Jackie’s baseball skills were only a small part of the challenge. Jackie had to be willing to

accept the physical, verbal, and physiological abuse on a daily basis. This abuse would occur on

and off the field from fans, opponents, and even his teammates. Arnold Rampersad, author of

Jackie Robinson: A Biography writes the following when describing this meeting:

"I know you're a good ballplayer," Rickey barked. "What I don't know is whether you

have the guts." Jack started to answer hotly, in defense of his manhood, when Rickey

explained, "I am looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back." Caught up

now in the drama, Rickey stripped off his coat and acted out a variety of parts that

portrayed examples of an offended Jim Crow. Now he was a white hotel clerk rudely

refusing Jack accommodations; now a supercilious white waiter in a restaurant; now a

brutish railroad conductor; now a vengeful base runner, vindictive spike flashing in the

sun, sliding into Jack’s black flesh—“How do you like that, nigger boy.” (126-127)

Branch Rickey did all of this to get into Jackie’s head. He emphasized that Jackie had to “turn

the other cheek.” The only way for Jackie Robinson to break down the barriers of baseball was to

adopt the leadership characteristics of Gandhi, who used active non-violence in India to break


From the moment Jackie Robinson arrived at spring training in Montreal, a minor league

team that is part of the Brooklyn Dodgers Organization, Jackie met adversity. The hotel did not

accept Jackie. Jackie’s fellow teammates did not accept him. During an inter-squad scrimmage,

the opposing pitcher intentionally threw the ball straight at Jackie's head. Jackie ducked, smiled,

and returned to the plate. The New York Daily News columnist, Jimmy Powers, wrote Jackie

"will not make the grade in the big leagues next year or the next if percentages mean anything,

Robinson is 1000 to 1 shot to make the grade (Rampersad 130).” The abuse came from all

directions. Jackie dug deep and displayed unconceivable guts and self-control. He defied the

odds and progressed to the major leagues. Arguably, the worst attack came once Jackie joined

the major league Brooklyn Dodgers. On April 22, 1947, the Dodgers returned home to Ebbets

Field for three games against the Philadelphia Phillies. Jackie Robinson, just ten days into his

major league career, recalls this day as “of all the unpleasant days in my life, brought me nearer

to cracking up than I ever had been (Rampersad 172)." At his first at-bat in the first inning, the

coach of the Phillies came onto the field and began taunting Jackie:

“Hey, nigger, why don’t you go back to the cotton field where you belong?”

“They’re waiting for you in the jungles, black boy!”

“Hey, snowflake, which one of those white boys’ wives are you dating tonight?”

“We don’t want you here, nigger.”

“Go back to the bushes!” (Rampersad 172-173)

Unsurprisingly, the torment completely distressed Jackie and pushed him to the point of turning

and attacking the tormentor. Jackie recalled thinking, “To hell with the image of the patient black

freak I was supposed to create. I could throw down my bat, stride over to that Phillies dugout,

grab one of those white sons of bitches and smash his teeth in with my despised black fist. Then I

would walk away from all of it (Rampersad 172).” This attitude would be most anyone's natural

reaction. However, Jackie gathered all the self-control he could muster with the greater purpose

in mind. This day marked a turning point in Jackie’s ability to lead. As a result, Jackie’s

teammates began to see him not as a black man nor a talented athlete, but as a leader who

possessed raw guts and courage. Before their own eyes, Jackie became a leader who they could

respect, support and follow despite the odds against them as a team.

Jackie Robinson’s ability to endure continual abuse was only possible through the

support of others. Even leaders require support from those close to them, especially when facing

extreme opposition. From the start, Branch Rickey, being a wise man, realized Jackie could not

undertake this feat alone. One of Branch Rickey’s first questions at their initial meeting was

whether Jackie had a girl. Branch Rickey explained that the challenges ahead of him would

require a strong woman to support him. Almost immediately after his meeting with Branch

Rickey, Jackie called Rachel, his girlfriend, and asked her to marry him. Jackie knew she would

faithfully support him and share his conviction regarding racial injustice. Branch Rickey also

stood in Jackie’s corner. Mr. Rickey arranged for the newly married Mrs. Rachel Robinson to

accompany Jackie to spring training. She was the only wife allowed at spring training. She

provided the loving, quiet support Jackie needed while Mr. Rickey inspired the confidence and

fortitude Jackie needed. Branch Rickey was Jackie’s personal coach and cheerleader. Rachel

recalled, “Rickey would push and prod Jack: ‘Go after that pitch! Take a lead! Be bold! Make

them worry. Jack became very personal, very intimate with Rickey. It was paternal—not

paternalistic, put paternal. And it gave Jack deep support when he badly needed it (Rampersad

145).” Although Jackie appeared alone, defying all odds on the baseball diamond, the support

from Rachel and Mr. Rickey was his foundation. As mentioned, Jackie eventually earned the

respect of his teammates and the Brooklyn Dodgers Organization as a whole as he endured the

adversity. In time, his teammates and the organization became the underlying support structure

that lifted Jackie up as well as becoming the fortress that protected him so he could continue to

lead the nation through the racial divide. The organization made personal travel arrangement for

Jackie due to discrimination on public buses. They found homes that were willing to host Jackie

and his wife for away trips since most hotels would deny Jackie access and force him to stay in

dirty, dreadful places. The team even began to refuse to stay at places that denied access to

Jackie. When playing against the Pittsburg Pirates, the pitcher, Austin Muller, intentionally threw

the ball at Jackie’s head knocking him to the ground. The entire Dodgers team cleared the bench

and came to his defense. Wendell Smith, a black reporter wrote, Jackie was “definitely one of the

Dodgers. He is ‘one of the boys’ and treated that way as his teammates (182).” Pee Wee Reese, a

future Hall-of-Famer, and idol at the time, became one of Jackie’s closest friends. The story’s

exact details are uncertain, but upon playing near Reese’s home, in Cincinnati or Boston, the fans

began to yell racial slurs and insults at Jackie. Pee Wee Reese ran over to Jackie placing his arm

around him silencing the crowd. Without words, but with this simple gesture, Pee Wee Reese, in

essence, proclaimed, “this is my friend, he belongs here, and he is here to stay.” Jackie Robinson

stated in his recollection, “I will never forget it. I get all kinds of help from these fellows. I

wouldn’t be anywhere without it (Rampersad 183).”

Jackie Robinson’s leadership expanded as he graciously withstood adversity and as he

earned and subsequently received the respect of his teammates. However, his leadership would

have been fruitless without his strong, unwavering conviction that he was playing baseball for a

greater purpose. He knew deep within him “why” he was resisting the temptation to fight back

and that made the “what” possible. Arnold Rampersad, Author of Jackie Robinson: A Biography,

wrote, "Jackie had a strong sense of knowing who he was, of being unassailable, invulnerable,

especially where the color of his skin was concerned. He was satisfied with his constant anger at

injustice, although also satisfied that he could control it (132)." Jackie Robinson knew why

Branch Rickey’s experiment was so important; he believed in the endeavor; he was willing to

give blood, sweat, and tears for the cause. All great leaders have a conviction of why they are

doing something. This conviction is a key prerequisite for inspiring others to follow. Jackie

stated, “I had to do it for several reasons. For black youth, for my mother, for Rachel, for myself.

I had already begun to feel like I had to do it for Rickey (Rampersad 127).” Jackie was fighting a

war for equality. A war that would unleash humanity’s natural rights that should never be

infringed upon by anyone. Jackie’s deeply held conviction inspired others to follow. The tides

turned. On the national stage, people began to view Jackie as a man who was no different from

any other man. His skin was black, but its color was no indication of his talent or intelligence.

Jackie was a leader in the truest sense of the word. He had no stated position of authority. He

could not force others to follow. He inspired others to want to follow and consequently caused

them to germinate and then propagate the same convictions.

Jackie Robinson, inducted into the Baseball Hall-of-Fame in 1963, was a great baseball

player with tremendous ability. However, people remember him today because of his leadership

in the battle against discrimination. Four interconnected aspects of Jackie Robinson’s life force

enabled him to succeed in the battle against discrimination. Jackie possessed a deep conviction in

a cause greater than being the first black man playing the game of baseball on a white team. He

led the battle against all kinds of racial barriers. His mysterious, heartfelt persuasion empowered

him to stand alone at times, to not fight back when his flesh told him to retaliate, and to

eventually rally others to not only stand with him but to provide him with the support he needed

to continue the fight. That is true leadership. Jackie ultimately succeeded in making every boys’

dream of playing in the major leagues possible, regardless of the color of their skin. Now, every

year, all MLB players wear Jackie’s number 42 for one game as a remembrance of his sacrifice

and accomplishment. Number 42 is the only number retired in baseball. Former American

League President, Gene Budig, stated, “Jackie led America by example. He reminded our people

of what was right and what was wrong. I think it can be safely said that Jackie Robinson made

the United States a better nation.”

MIDN Matthew J. Miller
United States Merchant Marine Academy
Class of 2017
Marine Engineering and Shipyard Management

Saturday, November 28, 2015

A Message To Negative Thinkers - Stop It.

In 1975, L. Frank Baum’s Classic, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was remade into a Broadway musical, with an urban twist, called The Wiz.  Three years later the musical was made into a movie with the same name. 

As an elementary schooler, I went to see The Wiz on a field trip with my fourth grade class. My two best friends at the time were named Eric and Charles.  Eric brought a family pack of Vienna Fingers (vanilla sandwich creme cookies) that I vividly remember the three of us scarfing down as we watched the movie. I don’t think I’ll ever forget how good they tasted, especially since the ones on grocery store shelves today fall woefully short of the standard set back in 1978.

I also don’t think I’ll ever forget the music in the movie.  All the performances were good, but I was particularly struck by Diana Ross singing "Home", Nipsey Russel singing "If I Could Feel", and Michael Jackson singing "You Can’t WIn".  I still remember, the melodies, images , and even most of the lyrics that accompanied those performances almost 40 years later.  And I, of course, remember the basic plot, as any kid who has ever watched it undoubtedly does.

But I didn’t remember any of the dialogue.  That wasn’t what I liked about the movie anyway.  That is, at least until I watched it again Friday morning with my daughter.

The scenes were just as I remembered.  In one of my favorites, there was Michael Jackson ‘done up’ as the Scarecrow, up on a scarecrow pole with his arms extended from his sides and wrapped around the arms of the pole.  He was being taunted by the crows who told him that he’d be stuck up on that pole for the rest of his life.  Then they demanded he to sing The Crow Anthem as a means of reinforcing message. The theme of the anthem is an unequivocally negative one, but the melody and the music (and Michael’s vocals) are so powerful that it’s easy to forget that the song is about the futility of life.  Take a look for yourself.

Luckily I missed the essential meaning of the lyrics as a child.  Or, at least I didn't act as if I had adopted them as a part of my own life code.

Anyway, Dorothy (Diana Ross) had been in the wings watching the scene above play out. After shooing the crows away, she told the Scarecrow that he wasn't stuck and could get down off pole if he wanted. Encouraged, the Scarecrow tried to climb down. But his legs, which were weakened and unsteady from lack of use, buckled and he fell flat on his face. The crows jeered as Dorothy rushed over to help. Here's just a little of the dialogue that ensued:


Scarecrow: Subject is a hopeless failure.

Dorothy: You are not a failure, you are just the product of some negative thinking. Just a little self confidence and coordination and you’re gonna be fine.

(Dorothy helps the Scarecrow to his feet and urges him to take steps)

Scarecrow: You mean the only thing standing between being stuck up there and living it up down here was - - - - - those crows?

Dorothy: They told you you couldn’t do it and you believed them?


Once the scarecrow "got his legs", he and Dorothy performed the movie's signature song, "Ease On Down The Road".  With simple, yet very instructive admonishments to listeners like, "pick your left foot up and put your right one down", "keep on movin' down the road that you choose", and "don't you carry nothin' that might be a load", it's a direct rebuke of The Crow Anthem and could easily be subtitled, You Can Win - But You Gotta Keep It Simple.  

Friday's feedback letter accused me of being too simplistic for the complicated racial realities we face today.  I’ll take that as a compliment, at least as it relates to the problem solving principle called Occam's Razor which holds that, "One should not increase, beyond what is necessary, the number of entities needed to explain anything."

If you are convinced all by yourself or by some 'crow' (perhaps a Black Lives Matter leader, or a politician - Republican or Democrat, or College Professor or President as examples), that you are stuck up on the pole, through no fault of your own, and that there are no prospects for an improvement to your situation, there is a simple solution and that is to change your thinking. This is true because negative thoughts lead to negative actions which lead to negative consequences. 

If you allow yourself to get stuck in that pattern, the crows will have you singing their anthem in no time. And it'll sound good just like it did in the movie. The problem is that the ideas underpinning the anthem are so self defeating that no protest march, policy capitulation, or dissenter's scalp will ever be enough to help you truly get your legs.  

But change your thinking and watch how quickly you start easing on down the road.


Friday, November 27, 2015

Letters and Feedback: Your argument on victims ceding power "is too simplistic for the complicated racial realities we face today."

Last Sunday's post about increasingly intolerant college kids elicited a few strong, off-line responses. One of those is the subject of today's post.  Assuming the level of interest and feedback increases over time, we intend to make feedback posts a recurring feature on our site.  We'll call it feedback Friday.

In any case, please take a few moments to read the first one.  And if you're so inclined, you can even offer up your own feedback on the feedback.  I'll be preparing my own for future submittal.


Note:  The author is a Wake Forest University graduate and future Ivy League MBA living and working in Boston, Massachusetts.  

This I agree with:  "They've been led to believe they have a right to be protected from ever seeing or hearing Bubba". There is a lot to be said of young people lacking resilience in a number of areas (everyone gets a trophy, everyones a winner and the like). So I really do agree that for some reason these students think that Bubba somehow isn't entitled to his own opinions--however, ignorant they may be. So I also agree with this: "the same set of laws that protect people from violence or the threat of violence from the likes of Bubba protect his right to say things to and about them that they might disagree with or find offensive."

However, I wholeheartedly disagree with this notion. "the only power he has is the power his "victims" give him". This to me is an argument that is too simplistic for the complicated racial realities that we face today. Bubba has power because "bubba's" great grandfather had power at the expense of others. Victims did not give him power--Institutionalized racism and white privilege did. Bubba can go to class and not ever have to think about whether or not he should get upset about what someone said. He never has to question whether or not he should speak up for fear of presenting the "Black perspective". Bubba will never question whether or not he is overreacting to something someone said--that is work that only his black peers must do.

I appreciate Keenan sharing his personal story.It was eloquently written and as I said, I agree for the most part. I just think what is expected in environments of higher education is different than what may be true in your neighborhood or your street. The debt that burdens this generation leads to a demand for superior service at a university. When these institutions claim to be about building character, and molding global leaders we must hold students accountable than more than some others.

But I digress, because fundamentally, Keenan and I are on the same page. The path forward can't be about silencing the ignorant people, it has to be about making the percentage of ignorant people smaller. 


Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Real Squanto

If you remember anything about the stories of Thanksgiving from your school days, you'll remember the name Sqaunto.  But I bet your teachers didn't tell you his story the way it's told in The Miracle of Squanto's Path to Plymouth.  It's actually quite interesting and worth a few minutes of your time.  See below:

"The story of how the Pilgrims arrived at our shores on the Mayflower—and how a friendly Patuxet native named Squanto showed them how to plant corn, using fish as fertilizer—is well-known. But Squanto’s full story is not, as National Geographic’s new Thanksgiving miniseries, “Saints & Strangers,” shows. That might be because some details of Squanto’s life are in dispute. The important ones are not, however. His story is astonishing, even raising profound questions about God’s role in American history.
Every Thanksgiving we remember that, to escape religious persecution, the Pilgrims sailed to the New World, landing at Plymouth Rock in 1620. But numerous trading ships had visited the area earlier. Around 1608 an English ship dropped anchor off the coast of what is today Plymouth, Mass., ostensibly to trade metal goods for the natives’ beads and pelts. The friendly Patuxets received the crew but soon discovered their dark intentions. A number of the braves were brutally captured, taken to Spain and sold into slavery.
One of them, a young man named Tisquantum, or Squanto, was bought by a group of Catholic friars, who evidently treated him well and freed him, even allowing him to dream of somehow returning to the New World, an almost unimaginable thought at the time. Around 1612, Squanto made his way to London, where he stayed with a man namedJohn Slany and learned his ways and language. In 1618, a ship was found, and in return for serving as an interpreter, Squanto would be given one-way passage back to the New World.
After spending a winter in Newfoundland, the ship made its way down the coast of Maine and Cape Cod, where Squanto at last reached his own shore. After 10 years, Squanto returned to the village where he had been born. But when he arrived, to his unfathomable disappointment, there was no one to greet him. What had happened?
It seems that since he had been away, nearly every member of the Patuxets had perished from disease, perhaps smallpox, brought by European ships. Had Squanto not been kidnapped, he would almost surely have died. But perhaps he didn’t feel lucky to have been spared. Surely, he must have wondered how his extraordinary efforts could amount to this. At first he wandered to another Wampanoag tribe, but they weren’t his people. He was a man without a family or tribe, and eventually lived alone in the woods.
But his story didn’t end there. In the bleak November of 1620, the Mayflower passengers, unable to navigate south to the warmer land of Virginia, decided to settle at Plymouth, the very spot where Squanto had grown up. They had come in search of religious freedom, hoping to found a colony based on Christian principles.
Their journey was very difficult, and their celebrated landing on the frigid shores of Plymouth proved even more so. Forced to sleep in miserably wet and cold conditions, many of them fell gravely ill. Half of them died during that terrible winter. One can imagine how they must have wept and wondered how the God they trusted and followed could lead them to this agonizing pass. They seriously considered returning to Europe.
But one day during that spring of 1621, a Wampanoag walked out of the woods to greet them. Somehow he spoke perfect English. In fact, he had lived in London more recently than they had. And if that weren’t strange enough, he had grown up on the exact land where they had settled.
Because of this, he knew everything about how to survive there; not only how to plant corn and squash, but how to find fish and lobsters and eels and much else. The lone Patuxet survivor had nowhere to go, so the Pilgrims adopted him as one of their own and he lived with them on the land of his childhood.
No one disputes that Squanto’s advent among the Pilgrims changed everything, making it possible for them to stay and thrive. Squanto even helped broker a peace with the local tribes, one that lasted 50 years, a staggering accomplishment considering the troubles settlers would face later.
So the question is: Can all of this have been sheer happenstance, as most versions of the story would have us believe? The Pilgrims hardly thought so. To them, Squanto was a living answer to their tearful prayers, an outrageous miracle of God. Plymouth Colony Governor William Bradford declared in his journal that Squanto “became a special instrument sent of God” who didn’t leave them “till he died.”
Indeed, when Squanto died from a mysterious disease in 1622, Bradford wrote that he wanted “the Governor to pray for him, that he might go to the Englishmen’s God in heaven.” And Squanto bequeathed his possessions to the Pilgrims “as remembrances of his love.”
These are historical facts. May we be forgiven for interpreting them as the answered prayers of a suffering people, and a warm touch at the cold dawn of our history of an Almighty Hand?"

It's not hard at all to imagine how different all our lives might be had Squanto's life in Europe not unfolded exactly as it did and had he not been able to catch a ride back home in 1618.

Share that one at the dinner table today.


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Giving Thanks ... America's Best Days Lie Ahead, As Always

Since 1961, each year at Thanksgiving time two editorials appear in the Wall Street Journal. They are timeless and always thought provoking. They are especially meaningful today and in this year of turmoil, unrest and high anxiety, both here and abroad.

I hope they will prompt you, as they do me, to pause and reflect on why America is both an exceptional and ongoing 'experiment' where free, imperfect and diverse people come together to 'form a more perfect union.' In my view, the secret sauce of American Exceptionalism lies in our willingness to explore the unknown and unfamiliar, work hard to improve both ourselves and our country, and thereby seek to 'form a more perfect union' of equals.

(1) The Desolate Wilderness:

"Here beginneth the chronicle of those memorable circumstances of the year 1620, as recorded by Nathaniel Morton, keeper of the records of Plymouth Colony, based on the account of William Bradford, sometime governor thereof:

So they left that goodly and pleasant city of Leyden, which had been their resting-place for above eleven years, but they knew that they were pilgrims and strangers here below, and looked not much on these things, but lifted up their eyes to Heaven, their dearest country, where God hath prepared for them a city (Heb. XI, 16), and therein quieted their spirits.

When they came to Delfs-Haven they found the ship and all things ready, and such of their friends as could not come with them followed after them, and sundry came from Amsterdam to see them shipt, and to take their leaves of them. One night was spent with little sleep with the most, but with friendly entertainment and Christian discourse, and other real expressions of true Christian love.

The next day they went on board, and their friends with them, where truly doleful was the sight of that sad and mournful parting, to hear what sighs and sobs and prayers did sound amongst them; what tears did gush from every eye, and pithy speeches pierced each other’s heart, that sundry of the Dutch strangers that stood on the Key as spectators could not refrain from tears. But the tide (which stays for no man) calling them away, that were thus loath to depart, their Reverend Pastor, falling down on his knees, and they all with him, with watery cheeks commended them with the most fervent prayers unto the Lord and His blessing; and then with mutual embraces and many tears they took their leaves one of another, which proved to be the last leave to many of them.

Being now passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before them in expectations, they had now no friends to welcome them, no inns to entertain or refresh them, no houses, or much less towns, to repair unto to seek for succour; and for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters of the country know them to be sharp and violent, subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel to known places, much more to search unknown coasts.

Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wilde beasts and wilde men? and what multitudes of them there were, they then knew not: for which way soever they turned their eyes (save upward to Heaven) they could have but little solace or content in respect of any outward object; for summer being ended, all things stand in appearance with a weatherbeaten face, and the whole country, full of woods and thickets, represented a wild and savage hew.

If they looked behind them, there was a mighty ocean which they had passed, and was now as a main bar or gulph to separate them from all the civil parts of the world."

(2) And the Fair Land:
Any one whose labors take him into the far reaches of the country, as ours lately have done, is bound to mark how the years have made the land grow fruitful.

This is indeed a big country, a rich country, in a way no array of figures can measure and so in a way past belief of those who have not seen it. Even those who journey through its Northeastern complex, into the Southern lands, across the central plains and to its Western slopes can only glimpse a measure of the bounty of America.

And a traveler cannot but be struck on his journey by the thought that this country, one day, can be even greater. America, though many know it not, is one of the great underdeveloped countries of the world; what it reaches for exceeds by far what it has grasped.

So the visitor returns thankful for much of what he has seen, and, in spite of everything, an optimist about what his country might be. Yet the visitor, if he is to make an honest report, must also note the air of unease that hangs everywhere.

For the traveler, as travelers have been always, is as much questioned as questioning. And for all the abundance he sees, he finds the questions put to him ask where men may repair for succor from the troubles that beset them.

His countrymen cannot forget the savage face of war. Too often they have been asked to fight in strange and distant places, for no clear purpose they could see and for no accomplishment they can measure. Their spirits are not quieted by the thought that the good and pleasant bounty that surrounds them can be destroyed in an instant by a single bomb. Yet they find no escape, for their survival and comfort now depend on unpredictable strangers in far-off corners of the globe.

How can they turn from melancholy when at home they see young arrayed against old, black against white, neighbor against neighbor, so that they stand in peril of social discord. Or not despair when they see that the cities and countryside are in need of repair, yet find themselves threatened by scarcities of the resources that sustain their way of life. Or when, in the face of these challenges, they turn for leadership to men in high places—only to find those men as frail as any others.

So sometimes the traveler is asked whence will come their succor. What is to preserve their abundance, or even their civility? How can they pass on to their children a nation as strong and free as the one they inherited from their forefathers? How is their country to endure these cruel storms that beset it from without and from within?

Of course the stranger cannot quiet their spirits. For it is true that everywhere men turn their eyes today much of the world has a truly wild and savage hue. No man, if he be truthful, can say that the specter of war is banished. Nor can he say that when men or communities are put upon their own resources they are sure of solace; nor be sure that men of diverse kinds and diverse views can live peaceably together in a time of troubles.

But we can all remind ourselves that the richness of this country was not born in the resources of the earth, though they be plentiful, but in the men that took its measure. For that reminder is everywhere—in the cities, towns, farms, roads, factories, homes, hospitals, schools that spread everywhere over that wilderness.

We can remind ourselves that for all our social discord we yet remain the longest enduring society of free men governing themselves without benefit of kings or dictators. Being so, we are the marvel and the mystery of the world, for that enduring liberty is no less a blessing than the abundance of the earth.

And we might remind ourselves also, that if those men setting out from Delftshaven had been daunted by the troubles they saw around them, then we could not this autumn be thankful for a fair land."

Summing Up

America is the best place on earth, as my young friend Matt Miller reminded us yesterday in '5 Lessons Learned While Sailing the World.'

Yes, ours truly is a unique and wonderful country where opportunities abound and We the People acting as free individuals reign supreme.  For unlike many nations, we never have been, aren't now and never will be under the absolute control of a monarchy, military, police or dictator.

We are indeed blessed to be free, albeit imperfect, American citizens. May our reach always exceed our grasp, both as individuals and as a society or equals.

So let's be thankful and appreciate this blessed place we call America --- the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Thanks. Bob.

It's Almost Christmas Again - It's Time To Start Giving Smarter

I've been a last minute Christmas shopper for a long time.

My wife is fond of pointing out that there's hardly anything left by the time I get around to hitting the stores.  My response to that criticism (or that loving observation from her point of view) always highlights the idea that having fewer items to choose from is a good thing because it simplifies the selection process.

But even I have to admit that some of the things I've picked out over the years have been pure filler, selected solely to satisfy the requirement of demonstrating that I was thinking of the intended recipients (my kids mainly).

Now having a sobering number of Christmas shopping seasons as an adult under my belt, and having been particularly struck by both the quote of the day below and the decaying pile of gifts from Christmas past that my wife showed me yesterday, I am planning a different approach this year.

"There are three principal means of acquiring knowledge... observation of nature, reflection, and experimentation. Observation collects facts; reflection combines them; experimentation verifies the result of that combination." - Denis Diderot

What if I could give something that wouldn't ever end up collecting dust until it was eventually tossed into a pile to be carried away to a dump?  Or, to put the question into the context of the quote above and frame it scientifically:

I've observed that I have wasted a lot of money over the years on Christmas gifts that eventually find their way to the landfill and now that I think about that, it's kind of dumb.  This year I'm going to try something different and I think my kids will hold on to these gifts for years to come.

My experimental idea isn't a new one at all to the world at large, but it will be new to me and it may be new to many people reading this post.  This year, my kids will receive their first shares of stock.

There are lots of considerations to be made here and I won't get into all of them in this post, which will be the first in a series on this topic.

The one issue that I'll cover today is the one dealing with the receiving mechanism.  That is, where does the stock go that I intend to give away?

In the old days, if I wanted to give someone a share of stock, I would have given them a physical certificate (share).  But today, stocks largely aren't represented by physical pieces of paper. Accordingly, giving someone a share of stock is done by creating a book entry with the stock company's transfer agent whereby the individual is recorded as the owner of record for that share. That transaction is recorded and tracked in an electronic book.  As such, anyone wishing to acquire stock today must have a brokerage account.  This includes minors, which brings up the additional issue of just which kind of account is most appropriate.

The following from serves as a pretty good synopsis on that topic:

"Want to open a brokerage account for your bundle of joy (or precocious toddler, or sullen preteen)? The good news is, you can. The even better news is, you'll have a few more choices on what type of account you're going to open for your child than you would if you were opening one for yourself.
If your child has no earned income, then put that kid to work! Just kidding. If your child doesn't get a paycheck, then you can choose between two types of accounts where there are no maximum contribution limits. The first is a guardian account, in which you own the money. It's yours. You can withdraw it for any reason you want, and you are the one who is liable for the taxes on the earnings. You've got total control, and the price for this is that you pay taxes at your own tax rate. Practically speaking, then, this type of account is basically a way for you to informally earmark funds for your child in an account in your name.
The other type of account is a custodial account, where you don't own the money -- your child does. As long as your child is a child, you still control the account, but any withdrawals (or dividends, for that matter) are taxed at your child's rate. This is, of course, generally lower than your own. In other words, you've given up some long-term control (as well as ownership), but it's usually a better deal from a tax standpoint. There are two kinds of custodial accounts: the Uniform Gift to Minors Act (UGMA) and the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA).
IRA accounts are another alternative for some kids. In order to have a regular IRA or a Roth IRA, the owner of the account must have earned income. That means that you cannot open one of these for your child until she is actually earning income. If your little kaboodle has begun child modeling at the age of four, or if you've decided to submit her for some friendly (and lucrative) medical experiments (shame on you!), then she qualifies. She can have an IRA for her earned income, up to annual limits of $4,000 per year in 2007 and $5,000 per year thereafter."
Got it?  Good, because we're going to take the theoretical information above and work our way through two real life examples using me and another adult subject over the next few weeks.  
Only 33 shopping days left, but thankfully there will be no lines and no waiting this year!


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

5 Lessons Learned While Sailing the World

At my current school, the United States Merchant Marine Academy, we are required to spend between 300 and 330 days working on ships. One benefit of this internship requirement is being able to gain real world work experience with multiple shipping companies while traveling all over the world. Over the course of 303 days, I made 43 port calls, in 18 countries, on four continents. Here is what I learned along the way:

1.    People Won’t Like You, Get Over It

Walking onto a ship, before even saying a word, people form preconceived notions about you. Some people will not like or respect you because of the school you attend, your ethnicity, your age, etc. However, since this is out of your control, focus on what is in your control. By doing this, I found that often you can gain nearly anyone’s respect. The first step is to make a good first impression. This includes dressing appropriately for the occasion and displaying respect and humility upon meeting your employer. The next step is showing up on time and prepared. On a ship working as part of the engineering department, this means carrying at least a flashlight and notebook. Notebooks are great for any job. No one remembers everything. Writing down instructions from your boss, concerns to address later, as well as general comments is always helpful. Developing relationships and earning the respect of others is a lifelong challenge. Nevertheless, it is important for working in harmony with coworkers and superiors. 

2.    Learn from Others

No one knows everything. Confucius, an influential Chinese philosopher, stated, “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.” Confucius is saying that gaining a greater quantity of knowledge often makes evident how little we know.  It doesn’t matter how smart you are, how many different ships (companies) you’ve worked on, there is always something to learn or a better way to accomplish a job. It is important to seek the advice of people with more experience and knowledge. Typically, these people are not paid to teach you anything. Therefore, displaying humility, genuine interest, and a desire to learn are crucial in influencing them to pass on their knowledge. When people do help you, convey your appreciation. 

3.    Mistakes Are Good

Now, don’t get me wrong. Every effort should be made to combat any potential mistake. Nonetheless, when attempting anything for the first time, mistakes are nearly impossible to avoid. The key is to acknowledge the mistake, analyze what went wrong, and learn from the experience. Take mistakes seriously, while keeping everything in the proper perspective. Henry Ford stated, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.”  Further, it is important not to cover-up mistakes. Instead, admit them to your superior and convey how you plan to rectify and learn from the situation.

4.    Develop Your Personal Brand

Your personal brand starts at a young age and is constantly changing. It includes far more than the school you attend, discipline of study, and grades you earn. A personal brand is the perception others have about you. Professionalism is a good place to start. This is a general term, which to me extends far past a person’s skills. It is important to display dependability, integrity, accountability, and self-governance. Peers and superiors respect men of integrity and respectfulness. By keeping this in mind and displaying these traits, along with a strong work ethic, people will take notice. 

5.     There Is No Place Like America

When people hear about all the places I have traveled they often say, “You’re so lucky. I am jealous.” These people may be correct. However, after seeing much of the world, I have become convinced of one thing. America remains the greatest country on earth. It is hard to fully appreciate this until you have seen the poverty in places such as India or Pakistan. Further, the freedom that we have in America is not the same freedom that exists in beautiful countries such as Spain and Italy. America is not exceptional because we are better, smarter, or superior people. This great nation is great because it was formed on the premise that freedom was not granted by man - it comes from God. Further, the leaders of the country are to serve the people, because the people are supreme in knowledge. Collective knowledge always trumps individual knowledge. This structure has enabled America to become superior. People have the freedom to act in their self-interest, which leads to improving society as a whole. Adam Smith famously wrote in his book Wealth of Nations, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their interest.” Adam Smith brilliantly understood that as individuals strive to fulfill their needs, society as a whole benefits.

MIDN Matthew J. Miller
United States Merchant Marine Academy
Class of 2017
Marine Engineering and Shipyard Management

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Yale Incident - Some More of the Story

You've probably seen by now the video rant of the Yale student who was so undone by a professor's call for students to be more tolerant of Halloween costumes that she berated him in a way that would make a sailor blush - and then put up his dukes.

The student, who has been identified as Jerylyn Luther, has gone underground.  Her facebook and twitter accounts have been deleted.  And her profile has been removed from the website of the PR firm owned by her mother.  Despite her attempts to wipe out her digital existence, the internet sleuths have learned a few things about her:

1) She had an apparently privileged upbringing.  Her parents live in affluent Fairfield,  Connecticut where the median home price is around $530,000.  The house they live in is actually worth around $760,000.  (This should surprise no one.  She was attending Yale after all)

2) She was on the search committee that hired the professor she verbally assaulted in the video. (This is a bit of a surprise considering her emotional and incredulous inquiry as to "who the f^%k hired him.  It turns out she did)

3)  She is a journalist.  That's right, she works for the Yale Globalist and actually oversees other journalists at the paper.  (This should be a surprise considering her considered effort to stifle free speech, but sadly it is not.  Journalists like Ms. Luther are okay with free speech as long as they agree with the point of view)

 4)  She describes herself as having a passion for social justice and she volunteers to help the homeless.  (No surprise here either.  The self righteousness has to come from somewhere)

After Ms. Luther's rant concluded, more calm, though not more cogent, students were also captured on video continuing the discussion with the professor.  The Yale Daily News has removed the video from the internet with a copyright claim. But it wasn't removed before the writers at had time to create the following transcript:


Professor: I’ve said I’m sorry for causing you pain.
Student 1: That is different.
Prof: That is different. That is different, in fact. That’s different than the statement that I’m sorry for what I said. There’s a big difference between the two, guys. The fact-
Student 1: Do you fundamentally stand behind what she said?
Prof: I stand behind free speech; yes, I do.
Student 2: Well then that sorry doesn’t mean anything.
Student 3: Even when it’s offensive?
Prof (addressing Stud 3): Even when it’s offensive. Especially if it’s offensive. Even if-
Stud 3: Even when it denigrates me?
Prof: Even when it denigrates you, even though I don’t agree with the content of the speech. I have the same objections to the speech that you do. The same ones.
Stud 2 (interrupting): But it doesn’t submit(?) to you-
Stud 1 (interrupting): But what about the swastika-
Prof (cont’d): But, I defend the right for people to speak their mind.
Stud 3: So when the IAC(?) sends out an email saying…
Prof: So who gets to decide what’s offensive? Who gets to decide guys?
Stud 2: When it hurts me!
Stud 1: When it’s offensive to me!
Prof: What if everybody says, “I’m hurt”? Does that mean everyone else has to stop speaking?
Student 4: But that’s not what was happening!
Stud 1: No! Because you don’t- No, but you don’t under-
Prof: Hold on. So I agree with the content of your speech. I am as against racism as you are. I am as against social inequality as you are. I have spent my life addressing these issues, even some of the students in my class can speak out to this, but that is different than the freedom of speech. The right to defend people to say whatever they want including you! Including your right to write what you want and speak to me; which I will also defend.
Stud 3: Th-The IAC
Girl to the camera: Joana(?), just ask him when he apologized. This is all interesting(?).
Prof: And one more thing, when I was at other institutions, I have defended people with your views against tremendous opposition. People with your views that the administration tried to ferret out and expel.


My take?  

The professor was right on and the students are so lost they may never recover.

And now you know some more of the story.


Good day.