When’s the Best Time to Stop Talking?


This is the 49th in a collection of newspaper ads written by Harry Gray, then CEO of United Technologies, that appeared in the Wall Street Journal from the late 1970s through the early 1980s. Here is the text from that ad.

Probably now.
A story is told about FDR when he was a young lawyer.
He heard his opponent summarize a case before the jury in an eloquent, emotional, but lengthy appeal.
Sensing the jury was restless, FDR is reported to have said, “You have heard the evidence. You have also listened to a brilliant orator. If you believe him, and disbelieve the evidence, you will decide in his favor.
That’s all I have to say.”
He won.
Overstate and bore.
Understate and score.
When a baseball umpire says, “Strike three!”
he doesn’t have to add, “Yer out.”
That’s what strike three means.

I’m a big believer in only saying as much as is necessary, and no more.

If I finish a class 10 minutes early, I feel no need to keep talking just to fill the time. Class is over, and everybody’s happy.

I also tell my students when they are answering a short essay question on a test to keep it brief. However, I’ve found that’s hard for many students to do.  I often find that students will answer a question correctly, but then they feel a need to keep writing (to fill the space), and as a result the odds start growing that they are going to write something that is incorrect. If only they had stopped a few sentences ago.

And I think the ad above is guilty of going just a bit too far. Gray should have ended his ad before he brings up the baseball umpire.

It seems as if today simply calling strike three is often not enough for some umpires; many of them seem to like to add some dramatic body language as well. Such a move seems to almost ridicule the player who has just struck out, as if he doesn’t already feel bad enough.

And think of all the excessive celebration that often takes place after a touchdown. Has everyone forgotten Coach Vince Lombardi’s quote?

Next time you make a touchdown, act like you’ve been there before.

After you score a touchdown, that’s the best time to stop talking. You’ve made your point.

And it’s just not the world of sports has such examples.

I think another good time to stop talking is when the bell goes off at a Presidential debate; but as we’ve all seen, no one adheres to that rule.

If our potential leaders don’t know when to stop talking, what hope do the rest of us have, particularly when there’s no bell telling us to stop?

But I think most of us intuitively know when it’s time to stop, hence I’ll end this post here.


Having Fun Is a Full-time Job


It’s Spring Break, and my youngest son and I decided to go visit our oldest son down in Raleigh for a few days.

The drive down is usually about six and a half to seven hours, but in hindsight leaving on a Friday afternoon and driving through D.C. may not have been the best decision. We eventually arrived in Raleigh – over eight hours later, a full day’s work.

Yesterday we spent the morning walking around Chapel Hill and Carrboro and then went to lunch at Lucha Tigre, a unique Korean-Mexican restaurant. The General Tso’s tofu was probably the best tofu I’ve ever had.

After lunch, we went to the SouthPoint mall in Durham. It also was unique in that it had both a large indoor mall as well as a large set of outdoor shops. Perhaps it was the beautiful weather, but the crowds were bigger than I saw at the King of Prussia mall during Christmas.

After stopping back at our hotel for a bit, we then went into downtown Raleigh for dinner. Unfortunately the first two places we went to were way too crowded, and so we ended up at BurgerFi, a Shake Shack type of establishment. The veggie burger and fries were delicious. And we learned a fun fact. And fun fact – the Barq’s root beer in the Coke Freestyle machine really is caffeine free – unlike regular Barq’s root beer, which has caffeine, unlike any other root beer that I am aware of. Anyway, we didn’t get home until close to 10:00, another full day on the job.

Today started with a late morning breakfast at New York Bagel and Deli in Cary, followed by some grocery shopping. We then stopped by my son’s apartment and picked up his newest toy; a camera-equipped drone. We took it to a nearby open field and practiced trying to control the drone, much harder than I imagined. It is an amazing piece of technology though, and I may have to pick one up (something to spy on the neighbors with).

After playing with the drone, we went to a Frankie’s Fun Park, a go-kart and mini golf facility. It was an absolutely beautiful day outside, so it was pretty crowded, but the mini golf was one of the nicest, and most challenging ones I’ve played.

We had worked up a pretty good appetite by now, and so we headed to Guasaca, an amazing Venezuelan arepa restaurant. I’ve written before about Guasaca, and it was as good as I remembered.

After our early dinner, we stopped at Gander Mountain, an outdoorsy kind of store with more guns and crossbows then I’ve ever seen in my life. As we were walking around the store, we spotted some tents that had a camouflage canvas, and I remarked they looked too small for anyone to sleep in. As we stopped to inspect the tents, it turned out they were hunting blinds. I just hoped that none of the employees overheard me, as if it wasn’t obvious enough that I didn’t belong there.

By the time we got home it was 7:00, and we were able to punch our time cards for another eight hour day

This vacation stuff is hard work, but it’s the type of job I love. Now if only I could find a way to get paid for what I’ve done the past three days…

The Unintended Consequences of Winning – Cheating


While there has been some research that has looked at the ethical behavior of contestants before and during a competition, not much has been written about the behavior of the contestants after a competition.

Amos Schurr at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Ilana Ritov at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem looked at such behavior by conducting five experiments which revealed that after a competition has taken place winners behave more dishonestly than competition losers.

Studies one and two demonstrated that winning a competition increased the likelihood of winners to steal money from their counterparts in a subsequent unrelated task. Studies three (a) and three (b) demonstrated that the effect holds only when winning means performing better than others (i.e., determined in reference to others) but not when success is determined by chance or in reference to a personal goal. Finally, study four demonstrates that a possible mechanism underlying the effect was an enhanced sense of entitlement among competition winners.

The authors did note that sometimes a person may have multiple goals, such as winning a competition and setting a personal record. In such cases, the personal record goal may affect future conduct more than beating the opponent in the competition, thus decreasing subsequent ethical misconduct.

The authors concluded that while it is important to acknowledge the value of competition in advancing economic growth, technological progress, wealth creation, social mobility, and greater equality,  it is also important to recognize the role of competition in eliciting future unethical behavior. A greater tendency toward such behavior on the part of winners, as their findings indicate, is likely to impede social mobility and equality, exacerbating disparities in society rather than alleviating them.

I think the study suggests the importance of teaching children at a young age that while competing against others is a useful way to measure  their progress, it is just as important, if not more, to set personal goals that they would like to achieve in the competition.

It seems such an approach will lead to all of the benefits of competition noted above, but at the same time decrease the likelihood of future unethical behavior if they were to win the competition.

So Vince Lombardi was close to getting it right:

Winning Isn’t the Only Thing, It’s How You Behave Afterwards That Matters.


A New Way to Cast Your Vote for President


I’ve been thinking about this idea for the past couple of weeks, and when Facebook released their new set of emojis, it was the push I needed to try and put my thoughts down in words.

With the upcoming presidential election, I have to admit that no one really gets me excited, but there are some candidates that really frighten me.

So I thought rather than go with the option of not voting at all, what if there was a way you could cast a “dislike” vote for someone?

I haven’t worked out the logistics, but one idea might be that each voter gets to cast just one vote, whether it is a vote FOR someone, or AGAINST someone. Each single vote against someone would negate a single vote for that person.

I’ve heard several people express concern about the upcoming election. Some candidates have a large negative rating, but there does not seem to be any way for voters to act on that negative reaction. Perhaps giving people the opportunity to vote against someone would allow their voice to be heard.

Even if casting a vote against someone didn’t factor into the final vote, at least it’s a way for people to blow off some steam, and to feel like they participated in the election process.

If such a process were in place for the upcoming election, the hardest part for me would be deciding who would get my negative vote; there’s so many good choices…


If You Could Have One Superpower, What Would It Be?


Bill and Melinda Gates were recently asked the superpower question by a group of Kentucky high school students.

When I first read the question, I immediately thought about how I would respond. My initial reaction was that I would want the ability to teleport, to be in one place one moment and then to be anywhere in the world the very next moment.

Bill noted that he thought the ability to fly, or to be invisible, or to travel through time would all be good options, but his response was “more energy”, and Melinda’s response was “more time”.

Bill and Melinda then used the question and their responses as the basis for their annual letter for their foundation.

They note that everyone wants more time and energy. But they mean one thing in rich countries and something else entirely when looked at through the eyes of the world’s poorest families.

Poverty is not just about a lack of money. It’s about the absence of the resources the poor need to realize their potential. Two critical ones are time and energy.

More than one billion people today live without access to energy. No electricity to light and heat their homes, power hospitals and factories, and improve their lives in thousands of ways.

Likewise, a lack of time creates obstacles too. It’s not simply the feeling of not having enough hours in the day. It’s the crippling effect of having to perform the backbreaking work that needs to get done when there’s no electricity.

Bill’s part of the letter focused on the lack of access to energy around the world, particularly in Africa.

Melinda’s part of the letter focused on the need for people to have more time, particualrly women

As I read the letter, I realized my response of wanting the ability to teleport fit in with my recent blog post about acts of kindness.

In that post I noted that it seemed as if acts of kindness come more naturally to others than they do to me. And here I am saying I want to be able to teleport, and Bill and Melinda Gates are talking about how they would use their superpowers to solve some of the world’s biggest problems.

Now that I’ve seen their answers, I want to change mine.

If I could have any superpower, I would want the ability to make the world a more peaceful place.

I just wish that was the first thought that came to my mind, and I didn’t have to be prompted by the Gateses.

I’d recommend taking the time to read their letter, and think about what superpower you would want.

If you don’t have the time right now to read the letter, here is 90-second video preview:

Our 2016 Annual Letter

In our Annual Letter, Bill and I write about two things everyone wants more of: time and energy. Here’s why we think they’re so important to unlocking progress for everyone—and what you can do to help: http://m-gat.es/1Qp2XRB

Posted by Melinda Gates on Monday, February 22, 2016

And by the way, once we had world peace, maybe then I’ll work on the teleporting thing.

Stuck in the YouTube Time Warp


For some reason the other day, I started singing the song from the “Marvel the Mustang” commercial. It’s amazing how easily the words came back from something I probably haven’t heard in 45 years. If you’ve never seen it, or want to bring back some memories, here is the commercial:

By the way, I have no idea what the girl means when she says, “What horse do?”

Anyway, while I was watching that commercial, I glanced over at the right side of my screen and I saw a list of related videos, and the one that caught my eye was a commercial for Mattel’s Tommy Burst Detective Set.

The detective set featured a snubnose 38, a quick release shoulder holster, a tommy gun, a wallet, a badge, and an ID card, all for just $7.00

Can you imagine a commercial airing like that today?

As I was watching that commercial, another one caught my eye (actually several did – hence my reference to the YouTube time warp, you start watching one YouTube video, and before you know it, an hour has passed, and you’ve created a playback history that you hope never goes public.)

The final video to share is a commercial from 1949 featuring doctors recommending a particular brand of cigarettes. According to nationwide research conducted at the time, more doctors smoked Camels than any other cigarette.

Thankfully, we’ve made a lot of progress on this issue, but I’m still amazed when I see a health professional smoke. If I found out my doctor smoked, I would immediately find a new doctor.

And speaking of smoking, we were just talking with our sons the other day about how prevalent it used to be; it seemed as if everyone smoked, everywhere. Perhaps the most amazing place was on an airplane.

I have a vague recollection of being on an airplane when I was little and seeing people smoke, but today it’s hard to look back on that and think that such an activity was even possible.

I wonder what things we take for granted today will have people 60 years from now looking back and saying, “What were they thinking?”

I’m guessing near the top of their list will be the popularity of Donald Trump…


I Wish Acts of Kindness Came to Me More Naturally


Last week was International Random Acts of Kindness Week, and in keeping with the general theme of today’s post, I’m just finding out about it now.

I’ve always tried to put kindness near the top of the traits I aspire to live by, and in the traits I look for in others.

However, I’ve realized that being kind seems to come more naturally to others than it does to me.

What triggered the realization was a post a neighbor made today on our NextDoor site (if your neighborhood does not yet have this app, I highly recommend it). The discussion was about a couple of stray cats that wander around our neighborhood. I think I’ve seen the cats, and just assumed they belonged to somebody, but apparently they did not. However, a couple of the neighbors would leave food outside for them, and one of them even took the cats for their shots and to be neutered.

Those certainly qualify as acts of kindness in my book, but the problem is that I would have never even thought of doing something like that for those cats. The thought would have never crossed my mind that they would need something to eat; how did those people know how to do that?

Unfortunately, I’ve got a few other examples to share.

Another one comes from our neighborhood.

We have a wonderful refuse collection, and a few months ago a couple of the neighbors decided to write a commendation letter to the township on what great service the men provide, and how they are always so friendly and helpful to the neighbors. The men were later officially acknowledged for their outstanding service to the community at a board of commissioners meeting. Again, another great act of kindness by my neighbors, and once again, something I would have never have thought of doing.

I had heard recently that one of my former students and his wife just had their first child, and the baby was having some challenges after she was born. I sent an email expressing my concern, and told him that the baby and his family would be in my thoughts and prayers. When I was discussing the situation later with a colleague who also knew this student, she told me that she had gone up to the church on campus and lit a candle and requested that a mass be said in the baby’s name. Once more, a beautiful act of kindness, but one that never crossed my mind.

There’s a couple more work related examples. The husband of one of my colleagues became quite ill a few months ago (and just recently passed away). I would stop by her office on occasion to ask how her husband was doing. It was during one of those conversations that she told me that my secretary would frequently send notes to her husband at home to let him know that she was thinking of him. My colleague told me how much those notes meant to him, and I can see why, but why didn’t I ever think of doing something like that?

And the final work story relates to the wonderful man noted in the previous paragraph who just passed away. During the memorial service, I heard a story about how this man would go visit one of our former faculty members in the hospital when he became ill. This faculty member was actually a priest, and from what it sounded like, these visits meant the world to him. A simple, but kind act, that I could have done as well, but the thought never entered my mind to do so.

There were also several acts of kindness to my family while my mom was ill and when she passed away. It was wonderful to be on the receiving end of such kindness, I just hope to be able to return such kindness to others.

I’ve had a friend tell me he’s sent an inspirational book to a friend who was going through difficult times.

So it’s not for lack of example; my parents, my aunt, my sisters, my wife and her family, my children, and my friends are among the kindest people I’ve ever known, and it seems like they always know the right thing to do when an occasion calls for kindness. I’m hoping that their their kindness is contagious.

I’m also hoping that by putting these thoughts down in writing that doing acts of kindness will become more spontaneous and that my acts of kindness will become more thoughtful.

In the meantime, I have marked Random Acts of Kindness Week 2017 down in my calendar, so at least I’ll be ready next time it comes around.

Whatever Happened to “Yes, Please”?


This is the 48th in a collection of newspaper ads written by Harry Gray, then CEO of United Technologies, that appeared in the Wall Street Journal from the late 1970s through the early 1980s. Here is the text from that ad.

It went the way of “Thank you”, Excuse me”, “Yes, sir”.
Do you know who just about killed all those phrases?

All of us.
We did not use them enough.
We now get, “Huh?”, “What?”, “Gimme more.”
Mannerly responses are learned at home.
Rude, barbaric responses also are learned at home.

William of Wykeham, who w as born in 1324, said,
“Manners maketh man.”
If we’re so smart in the 20th century, how come we’re not as civilized as William was in the 14th century?
To the child who says, “Huh?”,
pass along this page.

I still remember one of the best compliments I ever received was when a neighbor told me, on the day after Halloween, that just about the only kids who said thank you when they got their candy the night before were the Borden boys.

I’m a big fan of manners, holding doors for people, saying “please” and “thank you”. However, I must also admit that I get kind of obnoxious when I hold the door for someone and they do not acknowledge it. I try to let them know in a not so subtle way how I feel, but I doubt if it has any effect.

And I agree with Harry Gray that such manners have been fading away. I remember there was a running joke about two older faculty when I first joined Villanova. It was said that if the two of them ever got to a door at the same time, neither one of them would ever get anywhere, because they would insist hat the other person go first. That was 30 years ago and I haven’t heard anything resembling such a comment in the years since.

I can’t imagine what Gray would think if he were alive today and watching this year’s Presidential campaign. If you want any proof that civility is in short supply, just watch any of the debates, particularly the Republican ones. The amount of hostility between the candidates is unbearable to watch.

It’s ironic that there’s a line in the ad, “Manners maketh man”, since I touched on the idea of manhood in yesterday’s blog. I’m fairly certain that many men would not list manners as one of the attributes that make someone a man.

I know that Harry Gray recommends giving this ad to a child who does not have good manners, but I think it would be even better to get it into the hands of adults, particularly this year’s Presidential candidates.

I know my vote will consider traits such as kindness and good  manners.

Is it any wonder that I’m struggling to find someone to vote for?


Connecting Thoughts, and Manhood


I have a lot of thoughts swirling through my head, and I think there’s some common threads running through them, so I thought I’d try to connect them. The reader will be the judge of whether or not I am successful at doing so, but be warned this is longer than most of my posts. (But if you read far enough, there is a link to a free PDF of one of Hemingway’s greatest short stories).

I just finished reading “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, and I loved it.

Besides being an engaging story, it was humorous, satirical, and offered some commentary on slavery. It’s obvious we’ve come a long way in bettering our attitudes about racism since Twain told that story, but it’s also obvious we’ve still got a long way to go.

It’s also obvious that what boys did for fun back in the 1860s is quite different from what boys do today, and I’m not sure I can say which one is better.

I read Huck Finn right after had I finished The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which were both part of my quest to read some classic literature over the past couple of years.

I’ve been somewhat successful in that quest, having recently read the following books:

  • Great Expectations
  • The Brothers Karamazov
  • Crime and Punishment
  • Don Quixote
  • The Count of Monte Cristo
  • Animal Farm
  • The Name of the Rose

After I finished Huck Finn yesterday, I started looking for my next book, and I came across a couple of great lists of classic books:

As I read through the various lists, the first thought that struck me is that I need to seriously up my reading game, It was somewhat depressing realizing how few of these classic books I have read. A second thought, and a more positive one, is that there are enough books on these lists to keep me busy clear through my golden years.

Some of the books I have marked to read are:

  • The Confessions by Augustine (probably a good idea since I work at Villanova, an Augustinian University)
  • The Old man and the Sea (I think I read this in high school, and while I remember the basic story, I’ve forgotten most of the details)
  • The Death and Life of Great American Cities (my oldest son recommended this to me)
  • Apology of Socrates and Crito
  • one of Shakespeare’s plays
  • The Importance of Being Earnest
  • The Idea of a University
  • the Rabbit books by Updike
  • All the Light We Cannot See
  • Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man
  • Emma
  • War and Peace
  • Moby Dick
  • Gulliver’s Travels
  • The Prince
  • The Canterbury Tales
  • The Iliad and The Odyssey

That list should keep me busy for a few months/years?

Anyway, while going through the lists, I saw one by Hemingway that I did not recognize – “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber”. Apparently it is a highly acclaimed short story set in Africa, written by Hemingway in 1936. I went searching on Amazon to see if there was a free download Kindle, but I actually came across a web site that had the full text of the story.

So I read the story (it took less than half an hour, it’s only 23 pages long), which featured an American couple on an African big game hunt, led by a stereotypical macho guide.  While there a few different themes in the story, one of them was about manhood. There seemed to be an implication that killing lions and buffaloes and then drinking whiskey afterwards is part of “being a man”.

While I’m no expert on Hemingway, I have a sense that many of his books, and he himself, focused on a macho definition of a man – someone who likes hunting, fishing, drinking, running with the bulls, boxing, etc.

As I thought about it, it reminded me of a Wall Street Journal story I had read earlier in the day yesterday, “Take Off Like a Man on These High-Adrenaline Guy Getaways“. These adventures, also referred to as brocations, featured men going heli skiing in the Alps followed by a night of drinking, white water rafting in South Sudan, mountain biking in Afghanistan, Antarctic glamping trips, climbing uphill on skis for two hours to Switzerland’s 1,000-year-old St. Bernard monastery to have lunch with monks before spending the rest of the day skiing downhill, or going into a jungle with villagers to spear hunt wild boar.

The headline says it all (“Take Off Like a Man”), implying that these are the sort of vacations that real men take. Here’s one person’s description of his experience:

We land on a remote glacier for cocktails chilled with glacial ice and a lunch served with silverware and linen napkins. The staff snuggle you up with warm blankets and you have the fire going and might get to see a grizzly bear attack something. It’s really like the wild kingdom.

And here’s the words from one of the leaders of such tours:

“The first thing men do when they go away together is stop shaving,” he said. “It’s a primal expression of their freedom from authority and constraints.”

And here’s another one:

“Today’s type-A male traveler needs more than a shady palm tree and swim-up bar.”

I guess I’m not a Type-A sort of guy, because a shady palm tree and a pool sound quite appealing to me.

These vacations seem to be the type of adventures people like Teddy Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway would go on if they were alive today (and wealthy enough to afford them – one of the places mentioned in the WSJ story charges over $125,000 per week).

As I was thinking about Hemingway and brocations, I then realized that this year’s presidential campaign has an underlying theme of machismo as well.

Ted Cruz has stated he will carpet-bomb ISIS, Donald Trump claimed that he will bomb the sh*t out of them, and Marco Rubio may be the most aggressive of all of them when he speaks of how to defeat ISIS. They refer to President Obama as weak, and Trump has bullied a good man, Jeb Bush out of the race, and doesn’t even seem to care.

But I think the candidates are just responding to what our culture has become, and something I have written about before, a culture of violence and trying to prove that might makes right.

So I guess what ties all of my random thoughts together is literature and the question of what makes somebody a man?

Is it your ability to kill a lion with a shotgun, to drink whiskey all night, to win a bar fight, to belittle someone in a vulnerable position, to talk tough, to curse, to lead others into war?

Or is being a man more about being a kind person, someone who cares about others, who treats everyone with respect, who would do no harm to any living creature, who looks for a peaceful solution to problems, who believes in fairness?

I sure hope it’s the second set of character traits, but even if it’s not, I have no intention of living up to someone else’s definition of a man.

Thanks for reading.

I Learned Something from the South Carolina Primary


I never thought I’d be saying this, but after watching CNN’s coverage of today’s South Carolina primary, Donald Trump and I have something in common.

We both pronounce the state of Nevada as Ne vodd’ uhh.

I never even knew there was another way to pronounce it, and that the other way is apparently the correct way – Ne vadd” uhh.

So my apologies to the great state of Nevada, I will try to pronounce your state correctly moving forward.

And if I were the state of Nevada, I wouldn’t be holding my breath waiting for any more apologies.