Monday, June 18, 2018

the word is Om

I won’t tell you who the young woman in the picture is, but I WILL tell you that I have known her for a very long time, and she is a truly remarkable person.

Every time that I view this picture, the first thing that comes to mind is a song that I first heard almost exactly 50 years ago. “Om” is the last track on the third album released by the Moody Blues. The album, “In Search Of The Lost Chord”, was released by the group in July of 1968.  

Have a listen:

Although the group started out playing rhythm and blues, they quickly branched out into a variety of rock variations. Their second album, "Days of Future Passed", was a blend of rock and classical music. “In Search of The Lost Chord” is most accurately described as “psychedelic rock”. When you listen to the song shown below, you will understand why.

The promotional video that you see above was shot at Groot-Bijaarden Castle near Brussels, Belgium, an edifice that dates back to 12th century. 

4 members of the group took LSD together early in 1967, and it is entirely possible that they may have known Timothy Leary personally. To use the terminology of the 1960’s, Leary was “far out”, an adjective that is further heightened by the fact that his ashes (and Gene Rodenberry’s) were shot into space after his death in 1997. If you are a “trekkie”, you may remember that Rodenberry created the Star Trek television series in 1966. 

The Moody Blues” was FINALLY inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April of 1968. Sadly, founding member Ray Thomas was not there to enjoy the honor, due to the fact that he passed away from prostrate cancer on January 4, 2018. 

Like many of the musical groups that I grew up listening to, the Moody Blues has had remarkable staying power. Except for a brief hiatus in the 1970’s, they have been performing together since 1964, and they will be playing in Las Vegas until October 6, 2018.  

In today’s world, we are constantly inundated with a lot of noisy nonsense. For the sake of your mental health, turn off the TV, stare at the picture at the top of the page, and play a little bit of the magic produced by an aging rock group a long time ago. 

You’ll feel a lot better. 




Tuesday, June 5, 2018

I've got you, babe

Due to the rush of our daily activities, most of us missed the fact that one of our favorite performers just had a birthday not long ago. 

Cherilyn Sarkisian Bono Allman was born on May 20, 1946, which makes her 72 years old.

She first burst onto to the music scene in 1965, when she teamed up with Sonny Bono to form the duo known as “Sonny and Cher”. Right out of the box, their song, “”I’ve got you, babe” reached number one on the American and British charts. By the end of 1967, they had sold 40 million records worldwide, and became Time magazine’s “it” couple. Even before she married Sonny in 1969, she also embarked on a solo career in 1966, and in 1970, she started The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour.

After divorcing Sonny in 1975, she started performing in Las Vegas (in 1980), and she moved to Broadway in 1982. She started acting in films in 1983, when she debuted in “Silkwood” in 1983. “Mask” followed in 1985, and was followed by “Moonstruck”, for which she earned an Academy Award for Best Actress.

She continued to release records, , and she also continued to tour. Her 2002-2006 "Living Proof: The Farewell Tour” became one of the highest grossing tours of all time, earning $250 million. In 2008, she signed a three year deal with Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas for $180 million, but she is not slowing down anytime soon. 

Later on this year, she will be performing in the film, “Mama Mia! Here We Go Again”, and she will also be traveling to Australia for another concert tour.  

In her career, Cher has won a Grammy, an Emmy, an academy Award, three Golden Globes, a Cannes Film Festival Award, and a special CFDA Fashion Award. 

Sharon and I saw Cher in concert once in Chicago, and the show was definitely worth the $75 admission price. It was almost worth that much just to see the costume changes, which occurred rapidly and frequently . 

Cher is another one of those classic “rags’ to riches” stories. 

Her father was an Armenian-American truck driver with drug and gambling
problems, and her mother was a was an occasional model and actress. Her father wasn’t around much when she was an infant, and her parents divorced when she was 10 months old. 

Her dad’s side of the family has a fair amount of gypsy blood, and her mother’s side was English, German, and Cherokee. For that reason, she has a strong personal connection to “gypsies, tramps, and thieves” and “half breed” . 

Just for fun, let’s listen to both of them again.

Happy birthday, Cher, and may you have a lot more of them in the future !

Saturday, June 2, 2018

suicide is painless

M*A*S*H, the television series, was based on the 1970 movie with the same title, which was based on the 1968 novel, titled MASH. The television series premiered on September 17, 1972, and the final 2.5 hour episode (titled “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen”) aired on February 28, 1983. The viewing audience was 125 million people, which broke the record for the highest percentage of homes with televisions for a television series. The show adopted its theme song, “suicide is painless” from M*A*S*H, the movie, which used the same theme song.

To be honest, I don’t think of the suicide issue very frequently, but it’s popped up on three separate occasions in recent weeks. My first real exposure to the issue happened in 2005, when one of my MetLife clients took his own life. At the appropriate time, I will tell you more about “Dan’s story”.

My first exposure in the recent past occurred just a few weeks ago, when I finished reading Jodi Picoult’s novel, “The Pact’. It’s a story about an intelligent 17 year old girl who decided to end her life, and she asked her long time boy friend (and neighbor) to assist her. Like virtually all Picoult’s novels, it was very thought provoking, but the subject matter made it a difficult book to work through.

The second reference to suicide was a recent column by a local columnist, named Linda Valdez, which you can read at the link posted below:

The title, “let old – not just terminally ill – folks decide when they die” will give you a good idea about some of her thoughts.

The third reference to suicide happened today, June 1, when Brittany Maynard’s husband, Daniel Diaz, was on Megyn Kelly’s show. The link below tells you more about her, but the short story is that she developed astrocytoma, a rare form of brain cancer, when she was 29 years old. At the time of her diagnosis, she had been married for roughly 14 months. Although she still had some good days after her diagnosis, she had many more days filled with pain and reduced communication skills. Since there is no cure for her disease, her choices were either a long and painful death, or a quick and pain free death. Since assisted suicide was illegal in California at the time, she moved to Oregon, and her life ended peacefully on November 2, 2014.

At the time of her death, only 3 states had death-with-dignity laws. As of today, that number has increased to 6, but will become 7 when Hawaii’s law becomes effective on January 1, 2019.

The average number of suicides each year in America is 44,965, or an average of 123 per day. 7 out of 10 suicides are middle aged white men, and the “method of choice” was firearms, which caused 51% of the deaths. Montana has the highest number of suicides, but is closely followed by Alaska. Not surprisingly, the states that have the toughest gun laws also have the lowest number of suicides

 I plan to live to be 100 years old, or darn close to it, so there is little chance that I am going to “off” myself at some point in the future. However, due to the wide variety of problems facing people who ultimately decide to “check out” a little early, I am not about to question their motives, since none of us will ever know what led them to make a very difficult decision.

I will admit, though, that Dan’s suicide made me mad, and here’s why: 


 Dan’s story 

The note in yesterday’s e-mail hit like a ton or bricks.

A guy named Bob, whom I have never met, sent me a note about Dan, who
was his neighbor and friend, as well as my client (at MetLife) and
friend. The note mentioned that Dan had passed away on Wednesday,
August 3, and the wake was today (August 5) in Oakbrook Terrace, a
western suburb of Chicago.

Dan and his wife Mary had purchased several products from me when I was
at MetLife, and Dan has been trying to buy a VW Passat from me for
months, but his wife is still a little nervous about spending the extra
money, even though they are well off financially. We’ve talked together
on the phone on a pretty regular basis, and I was a frequent recipient
of his email literature, some of which I passed on to some of MY
regular email correspondents.

Since Dan really was a hell of a guy, and I considered him a friend, I
decided to take a few hours off from work to attend his wake. Although
Chicago traffic on a Friday afternoon can really get brutal, my
three-hour round trip actually could have been a lot worse.

After I got to the wake, his younger daughter quickly advised me that
her dad had taken his own life, which brought a little misting to my
eyes, and an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach. Dan had
been plagued with a variety of medical problems for a number of years,
which had forced an early retirement several years ago. Had he lived to
be 80 or so, he would have won the "curmudgeon" award from whatever
nursing home he wound up in, but he still was an enjoyable guy in spite
of his characteristic bluntness.

Dan’s frustration with his medical problems certainly are
understandable, but the thoughts that kept coming back to me on the
drive back to Evanston are that neither one of his daughters (they are
roughly 18 and 20) will ever have the opportunity to walk them down the
aisle with their dad on their wedding day, or have him play the role of
grandpa to their children, or have him watch them enter the world as
new college graduates (the eldest daughter just finished her second
year at Northwestern, and will be attending a semester of college in
Dublin next fall).

I’ve offered to help his wife a little bit with the MetLife stuff after
the dust settles a little, but hopefully (and more importantly) I can
offer her a few kind words to ease her pain.

The lesson that all of us can learn from Dan is that even if our
troubles at times seem overwhelming , ALL of us have a vast network of
family and friends that can help us get through. I’ve had more than my
share of bad situations in recent years, but my Irish stubborness (and
a few trusted confidantes) has helped me to overcome some pretty
daunting challenges.

I’ll hoist a glass of Guinness in Dan’s honor as often as I can, but
I’ll always remember him as a friend who’s time came sooner than it
should have, and it may take me a while to work that anger out of my

My closing thought (and advice) is this:

If things look dark and dreary, NEVER give up the ship. Help can always
arrive when you least expect it, AND from unexpected sources.


In the final analysis, of course, suicide is NOT painless. Although it may finally bring permanent relief to the person committing the act, nearly all of those people leave behind friends and relatives, who will be forever tormented by the fact that maybe, just maybe, they could have done SOMETHING to help, but were unable to. As a society , we should also be troubled by the fact that an average of 20 veterans kill themselves every day, and spending $30 million spent on a military parade is money that could have been better used to provide preventive measures for them.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

miracle on ice

Way back in 1980, the United States hockey team, coached by Herb Brooks, defeated a vastly superior Russian hockey team to win the Olympic gold medal.

For those who don’t think that history repeats itself, consider this:

The Las Vegas Golden Knights started their INAUGURAL season about a year ago. As you are aware, finding a hockey team in the desert of Las Vegas is about as logical as winning the lottery – but it actually happened.

We are currently in the middle of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and there are just TWO teams remaining – the Washington Capitals, and the Nevada Golden Knights. So far, the Knights are leading the series, and the 2nd game is tonight.

Since the start of professional hockey, no team has won the Stanley Cup in its very first season, The MOST successful teams in the NHL are the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leaf, which have won 3374 and 2883 games, respectively . So far, the Canadiens have won 24 Stanley Cups, more than any other team. Its first championship was in 1915, 6 years after the team’s founding.

The Maple Leafs were founded in 1917, and have won 13 Stanley Cups. The first one was in 1932, 15 years after the club’s founding


Can the Golden Knights win the Stanley Cup in their first season? 

To paraphrase Peter Pam, if you believe in miracles, clap your hands.

Monday, May 21, 2018

A beautiful mind

Last Friday, I monitored an honors psych class at a local high school. The assignment for the day was to watch “A beautiful mind”, the award winning 2001 film. It’s a great film, which is why it earned 4 Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actress).

At the end of class, I did a little research on John Nash, and discovered that this week (on May 23) is the 3rd anniversary of his death in a car crash. Ironically, he and his wife were returning from Norway, where he had just been awarded the Abel Prize (which is modeled after the Nobel Prize) which is given to outstanding mathematicians. The taxi driver lost control of his vehicle on the New Jersey turnpike, and both he and his wife were thrown from the car and killed. He was 86 years old.

As his bio explains, he made fundamental contributions to game theory, differential geometry, and the study of partial differential equations. The four theories that he is known for are listed below:

Researchers have discovered that people with high IQs have a lower risk of schizophrenia, but Nash (and his son) were exceptions to the rule, since both of them developed schizophrenia.

Unless you are a scientist, the terms shown above won’t make a lot of sense to you, but the link below does a better job of explain both game theory and the Nash equilibrium:

Because of John Nash, game theory now has wide-ranging applications to everything from business, law and finance to agriculture, war and, most important for Nash, economics.

John Nash isn’t the smartest person who ever lived, but if you scroll through the list below, you will discover that he is number 180 on the list, with an IQ (coincidentally) of 180. Albert Einstein is number 3 on the list with an IQ of 215.

I wouldn’t recommend spending a lot of time reading the entire list, since there are 633 people on it, but you may find the following people to be of interest (their place on the list is next to their name):

Leonardo DaVinci – 7
Galileo – 12
Shakespeare – 43
Thomas Edison – 54
Pavlov – 146

Mark Twain – 361
Steve Jobs – 437
FDT – 529
JFK – 532
Muhammad Ali (“I am the greatest”) – 541
Walt Disney – 618
Martin Luther King – 620

Being highly intelligent does not guarantee that you will be a success in life, nor does having a low IQ condemn you to a life of failure (Forrest Gump had an IQ of 75).

None of us is as smart as John Nash, or even most of the people on the list. However, if we simply try to do our best at whatever we do, we too will be a success in life.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

I am the greatest

If you are one of those people who feel compelled to put your thoughts down on paper (like I do) there are no shortage of sources to draw ideas from.

Since I started publishing online about years ago, I have produced just under 400 separate articles, which cover 62 different topics. To date, I’ve had just under 250,000 “hits” on those articles at various places around the world, and I’ve been read in something like 100 countries, some of which I have never heard from. After the United States, the 2nd most common place my writings have been in is Russia. More than likely, some of my thoughts have been read by employees of the Internet Research Agency, a Kremlin-backed troll farm that placed fake Facebook ads during the 2016 election campaign.

Yesterday, I monitored an English class at a local high school, and wound up playing the YouTube video of Oprah Winfrey’s visit to Auschwitz with Elie Weisel in 2006. It’s a very powerful film, and it almost inspired me to write about it. However, since I viewed it on the same day as the United States dedicated its new (and ill-advised) new embassy in Jerusalem, I decided that I had had enough bad news for the day.

The idea from the title shown above came to me in a dream, and it wasn’t the first time that I have gotten ideas that way.

When I was still in high school, a brash young man names Cassius Clay became the WBA, WBC, and lineal heavyweight championships at the tender age of 22. He loudly proclaimed “I am the greatest”, and he BRIEFLY had the admiration of a large number of people.

Not long after winning his championship, he converted to Islam, and changed his named to Muhammad Ali, which infuriated a bunch of his fans. Two years later, he refused induction into the U.S. military, which caused him to be stripped of his titles for 5 years, at which time his titles were reinstated by the Supreme Court.

Ali was one of the leading 20th century boxers, and remains the ONLY three time lineal heavyweight champion. After his retirement at the age of 39, Ali focused on religion and charity, and eventually helped feed more than 22,000,000 people affected by hunger.

If we expand beyond Muhammad Ali, what exactly DOES make a person the greatest?
Scholars still debate whether Michael Jordan or Lebron James is the greatest basketball player, or whether Tiger Woods is still the greatest golfer, or Abe Lincoln is still the best president.
Not all “the great ones” are as bodacious as Ali was, but people that are “the greatest” share two qualities.

(1)          They are confident
(2)         They are persistent

Cassius Clay started boxing at the age of 12, and won an Olympic gold medal when he was only 18 years old. During his boxing career, he beat 21 boxers for the world heavyweight title, and is the only boxer to be named fighter of the year six times by Ring magazine.

Michael Jordan tried out for the varsity team when he was a sophomore in high school, but was cut from the team. Determined to prove his worth, Jordan trained vigorously, and became the star of the junior varsity tram.  The following hear, he made the varsity team. When he was a senior, he was selected to the McDonald’s All-American Team. In college, he selected to the NCAA All-American First team, and was drafter by the NBA before he graduated. Eventually, he led the Chicago Bulls to six national championships. In his retirement years, he became the first former player to become the majority owner of an NBA team, the Charlotte Bobcats. Despite the team’s dismal record, its ownership (along with his lucrative sponsorships) allowed Jordan to become the first former athlete to become a billionaire. As of March, 2018, his net wroth is $1.65 billion.

Tiger Woods started playing golf before he was 2 years old, and played against Bob Hope in a television show when he was 3. Starting in 1988, when he was 13, he won the Junior World Golf Championships, which he went on to win 5 more times. At the age of 15, he became the youngest winner ever of the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship. At the age of 19, he became the youngest ever U.S. Amateur, and a year later, he turned pro. At the age of 21, he became the youngest ever winner of the Masters at Augusta, Georgia.

His awards and records are almost too numerous to mention, but they are all listed in the link shown below. He is also the 2nd person known to walk on water.

Despite personal and physical setbacks, Tiger Woods is still competing today, and he has an accumulated net worth of $740 million.

Abe Lincoln is consistently ranked the best president America has ever had, but he had NUMEROUS setbacks before he was elected president in 1860, including being defeated for public office on six different occasions.

We’re all good at some things, and terrible at other things, but all of us are capable of greatness if we set our minds to it. If you have any doubts at all about that, consider the story of J.K. Rowling, whose story is listed below.

Before her first Harry Potter book was published, she was a single mom living on state benefits. With the success of the Harry Potter series, she became the first writer in history to become a billionaire. Even though she has given enough of her fortune away to charity to lose her billionaire status, she is STILL worth 600 million British Pounds, (about $800 million U.S.)

Remember- YOU are the greatest, which is why YOU were Time magazines person of the year in 2006.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

I’ve been working on the railroad

Long before the Sandhills Sixteen released the first version of the song shown about in 1927, a railroad-connected event occurred on this day in 1869.

Since at least 1832, statesmen on both the East coast and the West coast had realized a need to connect both coasts. The California gold rush of 1849 further emphasized the need, and Congress finally authorized funds 4 ears later to survey several routes for a transcontinental railroad. Increasing tensions between the North and South delayed the start of the railroad for a few more years, but Congress still managed to pass the Pacific Railroad Act only a year into the Civil War.

Congress chose two railroads, the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific, to build the railroad, and construction was finally started a year after the Civil War ended. The Union Pacific line started building west from Omaha, and the Central Pacific  line started building east from Sacramento. Despite extremely difficult working condition, the project was completed ahead of schedule and under budget. The two lines finally met in Promontory, Utah, and a gold spike was pounded into the ground to connect the two ends.

Despite the technical success of the railroad, it started to make apparent our country’s tortured relationship with immigrants. The workforce of the Central Pacific line consisted almost entirely of Chinese immigrant, and the Union Pacific line was largely Civil War veterans of Irish descent.

One of the reasons that Chinese laborers were used on the railroad is that the United States and China signed the Burlingame Treaty in 1868, which established formal friendly relations between the two countries. Not long after the treaty was signed, resentment of Chinese immigrants started to build. The Page Act was passed in 1875, and was followed by the Fifteen Passenger Bill in 1879. The Angell Treaty of 1880 temporarily suspended immigration of skilled and unskilled laborers, but still allowed white collar professionals.

And then it got worse.

On May 6, 1882, President Chester A. Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which prohibited ALL immigration of Chinese laborers. Although it was only supposed to be effective for 10 years, it was not repealed until December 17, 1943, when the Magnuson Act was passed. The Chinese Exclusion Act was the first (but not the last) law implemented to prohibit a specific ethnic group from immigrating into the Untied States. One of the most infamous laws was Operation Wetback (signed in 1954), which targeted Mexicans, but the current administration has tried to slam the door on a group that Trump calls “mooselums”.

Although the Irish potato famine vastly increased the number of Irish people immigrating to America between 1845 and 1849, Irish immigrants before that time period also experienced discrimination.

Starting in the 1840’s, it became more difficult for Irish people to find jobs in America, and “no Irish need apply” signs started to appear not long after. The last such sign did not disappear until 1909. As a result, many Irish found the prospect of military service during the Civil War more attractive than not working at all.

On June 17, 1885, the French steamer Isere arrived in New York harbor. In its hold were crates holding the disassembled Statue of Liberty, a gift from France to the United States. Although the arrival of the statue was greeted with enthusiasm by the American people, it took until April of 1886 to raise enough money for the pedestal, and the completed statue was dedicated six months later, on October 28, 1886. In 1903, a bronze tablet containing the words to Emma Lazarus’s sonnet “The New Collosus” (which was used to raise money for the pedestal) was mounted inside the pedestal. During the 1986 renovation, it was moved to the Statue of Liberty museum in the base of the statute.

The complete poem is listed below, but most of us are only familiar with the closing lines, which have been highlighted for emphasis.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
OTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Despite those encouraging words, immigrants have come under attack at various times in our country’s issue.
Ellis Island was opened to receive immigrants on January 1, 1892 (the first person to arrive was a 15 year old Irish girl named Annie Moore), but it didn’t take long before restrictions started to be put in place. Concern over security during WWI prompted Congress to pass literacy test requirements in 1917, but Congress felt a need to further restrict immigrating by the imposition of quotas, which were codified in the Johnson-Reed Act, which is better known as the Immigration Act of 1924.

Restrictions loosened after WWII, when the United States admitted displaced persons from Europe in 1948 and 1950, but we’ve become a lot less friendly since the election of November 2016.

We are a land of immigrants, and our strength comes from our diversity. To the chagrin of old white Americans, though, it won’t be long before Caucasians are a minority. It may not happened in my lifetime, but it already HAS happened in our schools. As of 2016, babies of color outnumber white babies, and minority children will be the majority by 2020.

The long standing prejudice again those early Irish and Chinese workers has long since faded away. Irish politicians have done well over the years, and the Chinese, especially in recent years, have become a financial powerhouse in our country.

On November 7, 2016, debt held by the public was $14.3 trillion or about 76% of the previous 12 months of GDP. Intragovernmental holdings stood at $5.4 trillion, giving a combined total gross national debt of $19.8 trillion or about 106% of the previous 12 months of GDP. As of December 2017, $6.3 trillion or approximately 45% of the debt held by the public was owned by foreign investors, the largest being China (about $1.18 trillion) then Japan (about $1.06 trillion).

Think about that for a minute.

Communist China how holds over $1 trillion dollars of our national debt. As of April of 2018, the United States is still the world’s largest economy, but the Chinese are gaining fast. According to Fortune magazine, China will be the THE world’s largest economy before 2030. Japan is still a distant third, as it was in 1990, but China was a lot smaller in the year that the Soviet Union was the 2nd largest economy.

In October of 2014, the iconic Waldorf Astoria was purchased by a Chinese holding company called Anbang Insurance (one of the world’s wealthiest companies) for $1.95 billion. At the time of its purchase, it was the most expensive hotel ever sold.  In February, Chinese authorities took control of the private held company due to the fact that its chairman had been accused of financial crime. A few days ago, chairman Wu Xiaohui, was sentenced to 18 years in prison after being convicted of fraud and embezzlement.

The Chinese STILL have a connection to our railroads, but it is a lot different than it used to be.

In the fall of 2015, a consortium of Chinese rail companies teamed up with Las Vega based XpressWest to build a 370 kilometer high speed rail line in California. When completed, the project will have consumed $5 billion of capital.

I wouldn’t lose a lot of sleep over China’s growing financial impact on our economy, since there really isn’t much we can do to stop it. For now,  just relax by listening to an old railroad song:

Monday, May 7, 2018

the value of being poor

This morning’s edition of the New York Times had an inspiring story about a woman named Sylvia Bloom, a Brooklyn native who died in 2016, not long after retiring from her job as a legal secretary at the age of 96. She had worked there for 67 years.

Born in 1903 to eastern European immigrants, she attended public schools in Brooklyn, and later completed a degree at Hunter College at night, while working full time during the day.

In 1947, she joined a newly formed law firm named Cleay, Gottlieb, Steen and Hamilton. At the time of her death, the firm had more than 1200 lawyers, and hundreds of staff members.

Although her salary as a legal secretary was “adequate” it was not sufficient to support a lavish life style. When she started with the firm, it was common for legal secretaries to get involved in the personal finances of her bosses. Whenever her bosses made investments, she often bought the same stocks, but in smaller amounts.

Although married, she and her husband never had children of their own, and they always lived a modest lifestyle, living in a rent controlled apartment. They almost always took public transportation.

Her soft spot was the Henry Street Settlement on the Lower East Side, a school for disadvantaged student, which recently became a HUGE beneficiary of her thrift and financial acumen.

Over the course of the career with the law firm, Ms. Bloom’s investments did well. She spread the investments to three brokerage firms and 11 banks. At the time of her death, she had accrued a fortune of more than $9 million.

Last week, the terms of her will were made public, and the Henry Street Settlement learned that she had endowed them with $6.2 million towards their scholarship fund.

If you have read “The Millionaire Next Door”, you know that there are a LOT of wealthy people living in our midst, but you would never known that by their lifestyles. The Times article also mentions Leonard Gigowski, Grace Groner (who I have written about before) and Donald and Mildred Othmer, all of whom lived modestly , but managed to amass large fortunes.ttp:

One thing that all of these people had in common is that they grew up during the Great Depression, and I have actually benefited personally from people that are similar to them.

My dad was born in 1909 (the golden age of farming) and my mother was born in 1913. Dad’s mother died when he was 11, leaving his dad alone to raise 7 children. In the summer of 1929, 56 year old Mark Brennan died of a heart attack, so my 20 year old dad and his 18 year old brother became heads of the household. Meanwhile, my mother’s parent’s saved up a modest down payment that allowed them to purchase a house in Hastings, Minnesota in the fall of 1929, roughly a month before the market crashed. Money was right, but they managed to hold on to the farm, which is still owned by the family today. One of mom’s siblings (one of the 2 who lived to be 95 years old) wound up living in the house for a total of roughly 80 years. Two of my dad’s sisters never married. One of them worked at a small bank (Midway National) in St. Paul, and retired to a comfortable, but modest, lifestyle.

His other unmarried sister, terrified of running out of money, worked at Smead Manufacturing in Hastings until she was in her 80’s. Having witnessed the failure of banks in the 1930’s, as well as the stock market crash, she developed a strong preference for GUARANTEES, and kept virtually all her money in passbook savings accounts, due to the fact that the FDIC guaranteed up to $100,000. When she passed,  she had over $500,000 in six local banks, and almost all of that money was distributed to her many nieces and nephews.

It’’s not uncommon to read stories about lottery winners who eventually wind up bankrupt, but THE most popular image of the value of poverty is a picture that was taken by Dorothea Lange in 1936. Her picture, titled “migrant mother” (see below) shocked the nation, and led to immediate government assistance to people much like her. Her identity was not revealed until nearly 40 years later, when the world learned that her name was Florence Owens Thompson, a Native American women who was born in Indian Territory the same year that Sylvia Bloom was born in Brooklyn. In the year that the picture was taken, she was on her second marriage, and had given birth to 7 children. By the time of her death, she had married once again, and had given birth to 3 more children. She was 32 years old when the picture was taken, but looked roughly 20 years older than that.

Later in life, her 10 children bought her a small home in Modesto, California, but she found that she preferred living in a mobile home, and moved back into one. In a 2008 interview, one of her daughters (Katherine McIntosh), described her mother as a “very strong lady” and “the backbone of of our family”. She said, “we never had a lot, but she always made sure we had something. She didn’t eat sometimes, but she always made sure we had something.” 

Like Sylvia Bloom’s story, Florence Thompson’s story also continues a very interesting twist.

In 1998, the United States Postal Service issued a stamp with the image of “the migrant mother” on its face, one of the few times that the Post Office had issued a stamp honoring someone who had been dead less than 10 years.  In the same year that the stamp was issued, Dorothea Lange’s handwritten notes and signature were sold by Sotheby’s of New York for $244,500. Four years later, Lange’s personal print of “the migrant mother” was sold by Christie’s New York for $141. 500. In October of 2005, an anonymous buyer paid $296,000 for 32 rediscovered Lange photos, which was far more that the pre-auction price estimate.

In 1998, the late Robert Schuller published a book titled “Tough Times Never Last, but Tough People Do”. That title describes not only Sylvia Bloom and Florence Thompson, but also millions of other people who struggle with adversity, but still manage to survive all the setbacks that the world can throw at them.
Keep that in mind the next time you’re feeling sorry for yourself.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Who killed Martin Luther King Jr. ?

There is no shortage of conspiracy theories in America, and the link below will provide a list of most of them. Some of them almost seem plausible (like the ones penned by former governor Jesse Ventura), and some are just plain ruts (like the ones created by Alex Jones).

The most prominent conspiracy theories are the ones connected to the assassination of JFK. To date, close to 1000 books have been written about the event, and most of them support the theory that there WAS a conspiracy to kill Kennedy. The litany of guilty parties include the CIA, the Mafia, LBJ, Fidel Castro, the KGB, or some combination of some of them

Martin Luther King was assassinated almost exactly 50 years ago. His death also has triggered a number of conspiracy theories, which blame a random African-American man who happened to be outside the Lorraine Hotel the night of shooting, the mysterious Raoul, a white lieutenant with the Memphis police department, Loyd Jowers, the Federal government, the Army, the Mafia, and Henry Clay Wilson. The conspiracy theories have flourished due to the fact that the King family eventually came to doubt the guilt of James Earl Ray, and filed a suit in 1999 for a new trial for Ray. Ultimately, the jury found that Loyd Jowers, and other unnamed parties, were guilty of King’s assassination, and the jury assessed a penalty of $100 against him.

Here is an intriguing thought, though. What if King himself orchestrated his own assassination in order to preserve his legacy? Sounds a bit far fetched, doesn’t it? Believe it or not, though, it actually IS a possibility.

One of my favorite authors is a man named Steve Berry. Like John Grisham, he decided that writing novels was more profitable than being an attorney and legislator, and he released his first novel in 2003, 14 years after Grisham released his first novel. For those of you who think that making a living as a writer is easy, consider that fact that Berry first started writing in 1990, but it took him 12 years and 85 rejections before he was successful in getting his novel published.  Berry credits the nuns who taught him in Catholic schools with instilling the discipline needed to both craft a novel and to find a publisher.

To date, Berry has written 23 novels – and I have read most of them. In all,  he has more than 22 million books in print, which have been translated into 40 languages and sold in 51 countries.

Although John Grisham’s net worth has been estimated to be around $300 million, Steve Berry has kept his financial information a bit closer. However, it IS possible to tour his dream house in St. Augustine, which hosts a number of references to his novels, six of which have been on the New York Times best seller list

Berry’s latest book, which I finished reading this morning, is “The Bishop’s Pawn”, and it’s about the assassination of MLK. The rare coin pictured below  plays a prominent part in the novel

Like most people, I read both fiction and non-fiction. As is the case with a lot of people, the majority of the books I read tend to fall into the fiction category. My favorite fiction writers are the folks who blend historical facts with a tightly woven adventure story, and people like Steve Berry, Clive Cussler, Dan Brown, and John Grisham are masters at their craft. It’s best to keep your phone handy when reading one of their novels, since you will find yourself looking up things as you work your way through the book.

Although the possibility of orchestrating his own death may still seem far-fetched, if you read his “mountain top” speech, which was given without notes the night before he was killed, it’s clear that he knew that his days were numbered. Here are the closing comments:

"Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!"
When you get a chance, get your hands on a copy of The Bishop’s Pawn”, and get “the rest of the story. You won't be disappointed.