Exploring New Personal Characters

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College isn’t so much about learning as it is about discovering. Sure, we explore a particular field of study because we find it intellectually stimulating. The true exploration, however, is the journey we embark upon within our very souls. The newfound freedom that comes with the college experience and the attendant releasing of inhibitions allows us to realize – and, if we are fortunate enough, become – the character we’ve always wanted to become. And if it turns out we don’t like that character (or simply grow out of it), we can shed it immediately upon graduation. (Of course, we always retain the option to dust it off and put that cloak back on come reunion time.)

For a variety of good and not-so-good reasons, high school presents itself more as a Continue Reading “Exploring New Personal Characters”

Playing Through the Pain

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Warning: Parents, doctors, and youth sports administrators may find the following quite disturbing.

It’s a classic “guy” thing. Playing through the pain. It’s also a throwback thing. It harkens to an era when (especially football) coaches would admonish you for dogging it on account of a presumed injury. These coaches themselves reflect an even earlier epoch, one where boot camp drill sergeants berated new recruits, pushing them up to and then beyond their physical limits.

We can’t do that anymore. We now live in a sissified society, constrained by both the very real fear of catastrophic liability claims and an unnatural craze that decries all things alpha male. There was once a time – from our Founding Fathers through the Greatest Generation – when our country exemplified a rugged resilience best defined by the phrase “playing through the pain.”

Those old enough to have had the honor of experiencing the joys of playing through the pain best remember it in terms of sports, most notably that of the gridiron variety. These boys earned their leadership ranks by setting aside their personal hurt for the sake of the team. They carried the ball that extra yard. They leapt into the air to make that last gasp catch knowing they left themselves defenseless. In short, they dutifully threw their beleaguered bodies into a mass of humanity, in hopes their individual effort might mean the difference in the game, the winning touchdown, the final stop.

For many, the spirit of the game made them numb to the pain. The experienced players knew the next morning would come with poignant aches and bruises, but they would wear them proudly as a personal badge of courage only they could see (and feel).

We have a word that describes those who exhibit the raw discipline to play through the pain: “hero.” We saw them in real life from Bunker Hill to the sands of Iwo Jima to the Mercury Seven. It was not unusual for young boys to imagine themselves giving the ultimate sacrifice for their friends, their unit, their country. And that, my dear reader, is why “playing through the pain” is too important a philosophy to throw away because “we don’t want to see anyone get hurt.”

In the real world, people get hurt. There are no parents, no teachers, no other adult authority to step in like some omnipresent Holden Caufield to catch you before you tumble down the unseen ridge. Life is full of ridges – both seen and unseen. You will tumble down them. You will get hurt. You will learn.

Vince Lombardi famously said, “The greatest accomplishment is not in never falling, but in rising again after you fall.”

Think about every action adventure movie you’ve ever seen. It’s a common trope. The hero, left for dead, rises one final time to do one more thing – always one more thing – that forever changes the lives of those around him for the better. Sometimes the hero survives (thus insuring a sequel), sometimes not. What matters is he chose to rise up again that one last time. To show the others how important life is, how one man can make a difference, how they, too, can be the hero when one day their name is drawn.

To accomplish this, though, they must play through the pain. There’s no “concussion protocol” in real-life. There are only actions. Your actions. Your decisions. No one else’s. Yours alone. Not what some parent, coach, or administrator tells you to do. What you decide to do.

Heroes make their own decisions. Heroes play through the pain. Heroes become heroes because their will, their persistence, and their sheer determination represent the ideal we all strive for.

Be a hero. Play through the pain. Show the world how it’s done.

 

 

It’s Time to Outlaw Student Loans

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Now hold on. Before you think I’ve totally lost my mind, hear me out on this one.

More than two decades ago, when Hillary Clinton was busy working on her plan to nationalize our nation’s health care system (yes, that would be when she was First Lady), the idea of how to stop spiraling health care costs suddenly hit me: Outlaw health insurance.

The reasoning was basic economics: Sellers charge what the market will bear. Because consumers didn’t pay their health care costs out-of-pocket (that’s what health insurance is for), they had no incentive to “shop” for the best price. As a result, the market (i.e., those health care consumers) could bear almost any price. Given that, it was only natural prices skyrocketed. (Well, that and an unconstrained tort system that made medical malpractice one of the fastest growing industries in America.)

Now consider college costs. They’ve skyrocketed, too. Why? Because the financial “aid” Continue Reading “It’s Time to Outlaw Student Loans”

How to Protect Yourself From Being Hypnotized Without Knowing It

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Have you ever been mesmerized? It happens all the time. To everyone. It’s like when you look at one of those pictures with all these tantalizing shapes. They dazzle your eyes, preventing you from seeing the real picture hidden within. That’s what being mesmerized is like. And you don’t even know it’s happening.

Several years ago I found myself in San Antonio to make a presentation about how research in behavioral finance identifies useful techniques to help people save for their retirement. A fellow came up to me. He had read my book 401(k) Fiduciary Solutions and told me he felt every professional should read it. Then he asked the question no author ever wants to answer: “So, how is your book selling?”

I didn’t know the best way to respond, so all I said was the coy, “I’d like sales to be better.”

Then he told me something fascinating, something I had never heard before. He revealed Continue Reading “How to Protect Yourself From Being Hypnotized Without Knowing It”

Old Granite Face Proves the Futility of Man Against Nature

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No one really knows for sure when it happened. The best guess says the event occurred sometime between the dark night of Friday and the lonely early morning hours of Saturday. A moist fog had covered the Cannon Mountains since Thursday. The rain only intensified on Friday, with nearly an inch pouring down into the deep crevices of the wrinkles in the weary face of the Old Man.

But it was the fatal freeze that finally did him in. As the evening turned into night, the temperatures plunged twenty degrees to within two degrees of the all-time low of 22⁰ set in 1966. The wind and rain, the freezing and thawing, the brittle sun-borne baking had taken their toll. All the King’s horses and all the King’s Men couldn’t keep Humpty Dumpty from falling again.

And fall he did. His chin gave way first. That was the keystone. For more than twelve thousand years, the weight of the four granite slabs above it rested on this protruding piece. Perhaps giving new meaning to “sticking your chin out,” nearly 80% of this bottom piece projected into thin air with no visible means of support. The remainder of the chunk of rock – a mere two feet in total – rested on the mountain’s ledge. This is where the Continue Reading “Old Granite Face Proves the Futility of Man Against Nature”

Praising Pranksterism

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Perhaps you heard this story explaining the origin of April Fools’ Day. Prior to the introduction of the Gregorian Calendar in 1582, April 1 marked the beginning of the new year. When Pope Gregory XIII blessed the calendar that would inherit his name, he not only replaced the Julian Calendar, but he simultaneously shifted the start of the new year to January 1. Those who continued to believe the new year started on April 1 were made fun of; hence, the start of April Fools’ Day.

Of course, this may not be the true explanation. For one thing, April Fools’ Day was celebrated in England well in advance of their adoption of the Gregorian Calendar. In addition, this conclusion was not deduced from any hard historical evidence, it was arrived at circumstantially. In fact, the earliest actual reference to April Fool’s Day may have been Chaucer, whose Canterbury Tales (published in 1392) referenced April Fool’s Day in the Nun’s Priests’ Tale. Eloy d’Amerval wrote a poem in 1508 that contains the French phrase “poisson d’avril,” which is the phrase one shouts after pranking someone on April Fool’s Day. Finally, there is the comical poem written by Flemish writer Eduard De Dene entitled “Refrain on errand-day/which is the first of April.” This poem was published in 1561, a generation before the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar.

A professor of history at Boston University who specialized in popular culture by the name of Joseph Boskin offered a more convincing origin story. In 1983, Boskin was in Los Continue Reading “Praising Pranksterism”

Snow Day, March 15, 2017

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There’s something totally relaxing about sitting in the comfort of your warm home while Mother Nature unleashes her winter fury all around you. Why does it relax me so? It’s not because I’m taking the day off from work. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I can work anywhere, anytime, 24/7 (as long as the electricity is working, but that concern was so last week for most people and so two weeks ago for me, but more on that later…). It’s not just because I can rest easy, knowing my family is safe with me (or safe wherever they are).

That’s all true, but there’s something else that relaxes me. It’s knowing that I’m sharing a common experience with everyone else in our broader community. There’s something to be said about this collective involvement. When a snow storm beyond a certain magnitude strikes, everyone stops. Well, they stop once they’re finished raiding the local grocery store for such essentials as milk, bread, and (fill-in-the-blank-with-your-favorite-non-nutritional-snack). Once prepared, we all head home and wait.

Admit it, are you like me? Do you agonize in anticipation waiting for that first flurry? Do you Continue Reading “Snow Day, March 15, 2017”

God and Calhoun at Yale

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You can tell skilled debaters from amateurs by this simple test: skilled debaters can argue either side of the argument with equal success. It’s why public defenders are often better attorneys than public prosecutors. In most situations, public prosecutors can choose which case to take to court. Given this option, it’s not surprising to see them avoid cases they don’t agree with. Public defenders have no similar choice. They must make a case for the defendant whether they believe that defendant is guilty or not. Unlike private defense attorneys, who may choose not to represent any particular party, public defenders have no right to pick and choose their cases.

It’s easy to see why people sometimes think less of the legal profession. The ability to argue either side of any issue with the same fervor can indicate a certain level of amorality that can make a preacher’s skin crawl. After all, in the court of law, judgment is fungible – the power of a lawyer’s rhetoric can sway it. On the other hand, from the point of view of the pulpit, Continue Reading “God and Calhoun at Yale”

Speed versus Accuracy? It All Depends on the Game

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Quantum physics is weird. Despite studying it for four intense years under the tutelage of some of the most elite professors in the field, I didn’t really get it until I read The Cosmic Code shortly after I earned my degree. Written by Heinz Pagels, a physicist and frequent contributor to The New York Times on topics like cosmology and other fun science subjects, the book explained the complex concepts of physics to the lowly layman. Now, my curriculum vitae might have suggested I wasn’t a lowly layman. While this may have been true for most areas of astrophysics, when it came to quantum physics I was as lowly as lowly could get.

In Pagels’ words, I was a “determinist.” A determinist is a classical physicist who sees the Continue Reading “Speed versus Accuracy? It All Depends on the Game”

7th Heaven? I’m Not Saying It’s Aliens, But…

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Americans seem to have been infatuated with the concept of extraterrestrial life ever since Italian Astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli placed his eye on the lens of that new (and very powerful) refractor telescope in the Osservatorio Astronomico di Brera. The Brera Observatory (so named because it was located in the Brera district of Milan, Italy) to this day sits on the very urban corner of Via Brera and Via Flori Ocsuri. The Jesuit astronomer Ruđer Josip Bošković (or “Ruggiero Giuseppe Boscovich,” depending on which ethnic group you believe controlled Dubrovnik in the Republic of Ragusa at the time of his birth) built the observatory in 1764. Within a decade, Pope Clements XIV issued his July 21, 1773 papal bull formally suppressing the Jesuits. Among other things, this papal bull passed the ownership of the observatory to municipal, rather than religious, authorities.

His early work having brought fame both to him and his country, the Kingdom of Italy bought Schiaparelli an 8.6 inch Merz Equatorial Refracting Telescope from famed German optician Georg Merz. In 1874 the telescope was installed on the roof of the Brera Observatory and Schiaparelli used it initially to study double stars. With the opposition of Mars set to happen on September 5, 1877, Schiaparelli turned his sight to the Red Planet. (An “opposition” is an astronomical event that occurs when the Earth is exactly between the Sun and the planet.) It was during this period of observations, beginning on September 12, 1877, that Schiaparelli drew his now famous map of Mars. Here lies, as they say, the rest of the story.Continue Reading “7th Heaven? I’m Not Saying It’s Aliens, But…”