In praise of the greatest you

Lewis Howes releases three podcasts a week. One of those is a quick take on Fridays he dubs "Five Minute Friday." The one above is from April 14, 2017 and is called Be True to Yourself.

It's a look at what is commonly called crab mentality — the notion that one crab in a bucket will scurry out, but if there are a lot of crabs in a bucket and one tries to crawl out, the others will grab that crab and pull it down.

I know this wasn't the point, but I did try to look up whether this is actually true, since in my experience crabs are merely delicious. All I found was this:

[C]rabs pull on stuff when they can't swim. They're trying to move. If there's nothing else around, they'll pull on the other crabs. And there's nothing else in a bucket of crabs.

Back to the crab mentality.

The analogy in human behavior is claimed to be that members of a group will attempt to negate or diminish the importance of any member who achieves success beyond the others, out of envy, spite, conspiracy, or competitive feelings, to halt their progress.

Howes notes that we don't want to feel lonely or excluded or to disappoint or upset other people.

It's worth noting here that for survival, humans as a species had to conform to our communities or we'd be ostracized and not receive the benefits of collective living, like sharing in food gathering, child-raising, etc.

While that's still true in many communities, if you're in a position to listen to podcasts or read blogs, you're most likely not stuck in such a community. It might be difficult physically or emotionally, but you can change which communities you're a part of.

If you're missing out on what's possible in your life, Howes does offer some tips for dealing with people who try to hold you down while never climbing to achieve anything in their own lives:

  • Have a conversation with the person hold you back. Request that person's support for your endeavors.
  • If you can't garner that person's support, don't get caught in the trap of being dragged down by others. Set boundaries. Know when you have to get up from the table and not be part of the conversation.
  • If necessary, significantly cut back on the time you spend with people who hold you back. Instead, go find people who life you up

You can love and support negative people from a distance, he says, but don't spend time around them allowing their negative attitude seep into your world.

Remember, there's room for everyone to be great.

Josh: The Podcast, Episode 53: Thanks for a year; plus baseball, health care and the flu; Passover and the Luv Guv

Thanks for sticking with me for a year. I hope we're getting more and more awesome. We bounce around a bunch this episode, but I think there's a lot of good stuff in it.

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Links:
Episode 13: Declaring Independence
Episode 22: Chris Malone
Episode 35: Maximiliano Campos
Episode 39: Ethics, facts, nuance and where we need to get
What is Passover?
The Red Sox are being decimated by the flu
The Red Sox and the flu: Health care and the bottom of the pyramid
Savannah National Wildlife Refuge
Sean Spicer on Hitler and Assad
"Luv Guv" Robert Bentley resigns
J. Geils dies

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The Red Sox and the flu: Health care and the bottom of the pyramid

Sometime in the not-too-distant future, I'll have a post about Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler's book Abundance. Until then, I just want to borrow their concept of the bottom of the pyramid — the four billion or so people who are the world's poorest but could mean big bucks for someone willing to go in with cheap products.

One of the things that happens is, if you can get this group of people clothes and food and water and electricity and cell phones, they can solve more of the world's problems. If you're worried about clean water and where your next meal's coming from, you could be the world's top engineer and you can't help anybody because you have to feed yourself first.

It's the same reason they tell you on airplanes to put your oxygen mask on first before you help anyone else with theirs: If you can't breathe, you're not of much use in making good decisions for someone else.

OK, so there's the bottom of the pyramid. Let's look near the top of the pyramid: professional athletes in the U.S.

The Boston Red Sox are off to a slow offensive start to the baseball season. A lot of that is due to the fact that the starting lineup has been decimated by the flu.

These are pro athletes, so they're generally in really good shape. They're also by and large wealthy — minimum salary for someone on a Major League roster all year is over a half-million dollars (approach that number without judgment — just recognize it as a statistic in relation to other incomes in the US).

While healthy people do tend to get rid of the flu more quickly than unhealthy people, the flu doesn't give a crap about your bank account.

Doctors and insurance companies, however, might.

Whether you're making $535,000 or $10,000,000 as a member of the Red Sox, if you feel like garbage and miss several days' work, at least your family is going to be well-cared for and it's hardly a matter of life or death.

If you're closer to the bottom of the pyramid, as far as US workers are concerned, several days with the flu might mean you miss several days' pay and perhaps you get fired. Maybe your job doesn't offer health insurance. Maybe your family isn't going to get to eat, or turn on the heat or lights this week, whatever you choose to forgo.

The thing about the flu: It spreads. If you have the flu, you risk your family getting the flu. If you go into work, you risk spreading it to their coworkers, and they to their families. If you work a bottom-of-the-pyramid type of job, say, at a department store, you might get a few dozen people sick. If you work in a restaurant or grocery store, there's a good chance you'll get some customers sick.

But if you work those bottom-of-the-pyramid jobs, it's hard to not go to work. You risk a lot.

Still inside the first few months of a new presidential administration, a lot of people are looking for a change in our health care system. Leadership royally botched its first attempt.

My congressman replied to my letter to him (see the post linked in the preceding paragraph), pointing out the Congressional Budget Office said the American Health Care Act would have saved the federal government money.

Yes, I responded, but they also said it would leave 24 million (more) people uninsured. Some people call that "patient choice." It's really not a "choice" if you have to decide between spending three-quarters of your paycheck on insurance and having a home and food and such.

So what do we do for those folks who, once the Affordable Care Act is replaced, won't be able to afford health insurance and won't be able to afford to miss work?

I don't know the answer. We have lots of smart people who could be working on it, but I'm not convinced any of them are.

In the words of President Donald Trump, "sad."

Josh: The Podcast, Episode 52: Talkin’ baseball

We talk sports. Mostly baseball. Because baseball.

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Links:
T-Mobile
MLB.tv
Vin Scully retired
NCAA season over
Celtics in the playoffs
Bruins in the playoffs
Len Bias
Bill Buckner
1985 Bears
Reminder Publications

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Civility in disagreement

If you're not subscribed to the JKWD Podcast, I suggest you try our most recent episode. In fact, here it is:

Kelvin and I have been doing our podcast for about 10 months or os — JKWD stands for "Josh and Kelvin World Domination" — and normally we have a fairly standard routine.

We'll get on a call about 10:30 a.m. on a Friday, talk about our week and whatever else for an hour and a half, then figure out what we're going to do for a podcast, go refill our coffees, and then record the podcast.

This time, we had to reschedule, and neither of us was really at full speed when we started speaking. We got into our routine as we always do, and 45 minutes or so into our typical ongoing babble, we both realized without saying anything that we were actually recording the podcast.

I am of the opinion, generally, that unscripted podcasts are best, but since we often tackle a specific subject, we tend to at least outline and have a pre-discussion.

We got into stuff that we had planned on doing in the future — most prominently The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, with shoutouts to The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson and The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman — and during that discussion, we disagreed a fair bit.

Kelvin and I are very different people. We often mention that we're of different generations, of different races and faiths, with different upbringings.

We're into very different things, and we have very different approaches to almost everything.

A little bit ago, Kelvin said we should read The Power of Now and discuss it on the podcast. So, I read it. Much of it wasn't meant for me. No harm, no foul. But that doesn't mean I had to like it.

We hadn't planned to discuss the book yet, but I had been reading The Antidote, which is subtitled Happiness for people who can't stand positive thinking. Burkeman interviewed Tolle for a chapter, and it gave me some new insight, so I wanted to talk about it.

Kelvin and I often mention that the discussions we have before we record the podcast would be fun to eavesdrop on, and we recognized that this was so far the most glowing example of that.

It's unscripted, entirely raw (even Kelvin cusses a bit, and we had to bleep out names that we said because we weren't planning on it being a podcast), and more importantly, we have an active disagreement.

Not an argument, mind you, but a disagreement. We were civil to each other throughout, and we simply moved on to another topic when we were done with that subject.

I think there are a lot of people in political power who could learn a thing or two from it.

Josh: The Podcast, Episode 51: Language, AHCA and no apologies

I let Rep. Buddy Carter have it over the AHCA this week, and no, I don't feel bad about it. We get a little deeper into language in this episode, and how we can actually work together as humans instead of working against each other on "teams" that are hoping for the same thing — though you wouldn't know it from listening to them.

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Links:
Congressman Buddy Carter (R-GA1)
My letter to Carter
The problem with #resist
10 terms to (hope to) define America moving forward
In defense of cussing
Freemasonry
Seven liberal arts and sciences
Logical fallacies
JKWD Podcast

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Lessons in leadership and work from the AHCA mess, plus a letter to my congressman

Well, last week was interesting, wasn't it?

I want to start with some thoughts on Obamacare, and the reason I want to do that is so you don't think I'm a cheerleader.

The Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") is not perfect. It's barely even good. It did a couple of good things, like making sure anybody who wanted health care could get it, and made sure that if you had a preexisting condition, you could get a policy.

It's also way too expensive for most of us in the middle class (I say most of us, because I think some people who think they're paying too much would be paying way more on the open market, if they could get insurance at all). It's harder to figure out what's going to be covered under my plan — I can pick a doctor in my network, but it takes a lot of work to figure out which tests (if any) are carried out by labs in my network.

The deductible plans under Obamacare are ludicrous. Ten years ago, insurance cost me about $160 a month. If I went to the doctor, I paid $10 and insurance covered the rest. If I went to the eye doctor, I paid $20 and insurance covered the rest. If I got glasses, insurance covered roughly the cost of basic lenses and I was responsible for the frames and any lens upgrade I might want.

Now, it costs about three times as much for insurance (granted I'm older and I have a second person on my insurance and there's been inflation). But the kicker is, the first $5,000 of in-network care comes out of my pocket, outside of one physical. The insurance company negotiates down the cost of care, but doesn't kick in anything except a physical until I've spent over $10,000 (the cost of insurance plus the deductible).

Obamacare, in other words, is not amazing. But it's what we have, so that's where we have to start from.

Here's the thing: In all the years since we've known Obamacare isn't amazing, nobody's bothered to start writing something amazing.

And then Donald Trump was elected president, with one of his major campaign promises being to repeal Obamacare.

If anybody had been doing one iota of real work on health care over the last seven years, we would have had some idea of the basics of a new plan that could have helped us move forward.

There are plenty of career politicians in both houses of Congress — people who would certainly have been around to reap the benefits of their work whenever it came to fruition.

Not that that's why you do it. Remember, you're entitled to work hard, and that's basically it.

Instead, what we wound up with was a quickly-hacked-together piece of legislation that some people were affectionately calling repeal and go fuck yourself.

This is not what you get if you spend seven years putting together a good foundation and then refine some of the details. It's what you get when you assume that people fall in line behind you instead of actually asking them what they want.

It takes 218 votes to get a piece of legislation through the House. It has to be a pretty good piece of legislation, then, not something that gets hacked together.

Lesson One, then, is do the work.

Lesson Two is work with your colleagues.


Two more lessons learned came straight from the top.

Lesson Three: Don't give ultimatums. The president told the House to pass the bill or forget about it. Trump's been in office just over two months, and he left everything on the field on health care? That's even an insult to athletes who actually go out there and leave everything on the field.

If you leave everything on the field, you focused on nothing but this game, gave it everything you had, and are so exhausted at the end that you'll have to deal with the emotion of the result later. For now, all you can do is scrape yourself together and try to pull off your shirt so you can get off in the shower.

Not one of those things describes anyone in the legacy of the AHCA.

Lesson Four: Take some responsibility. And even if you don't control the whole process, understand who can actually help you. If instead you're angry at your son-in-law for being off skiing with your daughter and your grandkids, you clearly don't understand that your son-in-law's job is basically to say what he thinks should happen and hold your hand when things don't go your way.

Jared Kushner doesn't write policy and he doesn't vote on it. And frankly, if he didn't think this was a battle worth fighting, that's his business, not yours.


This is the letter I wrote to Congressman Buddy Carter on Sunday after I received his weekly newsletter. I'll update when I get a response. He only accepts email from his constituents, so unless you're in the first Georgia district, you can just read and enjoy (or whatever).

Congressman Carter,

You write in your most recent email to constituents (March 26, 2017) that "Obamacare is a disaster," and you list many reasons why that may be true.

You also blame a "small number of [your] colleagues in the House" for failure to pass the AHCA.

If a small number of your colleagues were against the AHCA, it would have passed -- at least 218 of them must have been against it.

The problem with dwelling on the faults of Obamacare is that you create no solutions.

Obamacare was always imperfect, and nobody -- Democrat or Republican -- has tried to fix it or work out any of the kinks in the past seven years.

The proposed version of the AHCA failed because the president rushed together a new bill and tried to bully it through the House with a "pass it tomorrow or forget about it" dictate, rather than spending the time working with a majority of the House to write good legislation.

It's going to take some time to write good legislation. If it means gut Obamacare and start over, then do that -- don't just pick apart what you and your colleagues don't like and hope it works out.

Look, I am a healthy 40-year-old man with a healthy wife and so far no children. That makes me fairly immune from whatever comes down the pike over the next few years; even if we're blessed with a child or two, we're in pretty good shape.

My parents are not getting any younger, and their premiums are way too expensive under Obamacare, but they would not have been eligible for coverage under the previous system because a bad back or a previous rotator cuff surgery would have been flagged as a preexisting condition.

We're not sure what would have changed for them under AHCA because nobody bothered to tell us what's in it, other than, "it's better."

I want you to understand something, before you read the rest of this letter. I'm a writer by nature, and do a fair bit of writing by trade. I have a vocabulary roughly three times that of the average college graduate. I say that because the words I'm going to use are very strong, and you should know that I'm picking them purposefully. Ready?

Get it the fuck together.

Your constituents know Obamacare isn't working. We're subject to it, unlike you and your colleagues who have federal health care.

You're not struggling. We are.

You don't have to tell us "Obamacare is a disaster." In fact, we'd really like it if you found your own descriptor. We've heard that one before. Chernobyl was a disaster. By that metric, Obamacare is at best annoying.

While you're coming up with words, try some that mean something. Here is what you said about AHCA in your email: "The legislation contains the critical reforms necessary to deliver relief and a patient-centered health care system with the choice and control needed to empower patients. "

In case you need someone to translate your fancy speech for you, that says, "AHCA contains changes that will give patients power."

Give me some details, please.

You don't fix a broken system by calling it a disaster and then hoping you can speak vaguely enough for long enough that people will cheer for the new one.

Do some fucking work.

I know it's difficult. Remember that you are a public servant. You represent us, but you work for us. It's not the job of your constituents to make you feel great about yourself. It's the job of your constituents to ask you to do great things, even if it takes sacrifice and hard work.

Even God never promised us the fruits of our labor, only the labor itself.

Now, take a deep breath, then decide to take some responsibility for working together with 217 (or more) of your colleagues, to write some legislation that's good for your constituents instead of your reelection campaign.

Yours,
Joshua Shear
Savannah, Georgia

I promised to update this if and when Rep. Carter responded, and I did get an email from him on April 7. I'm just going to paste the letter in and let you infer my reaction.

Thank you for contacting me about the urgent need to rescue America’s failing health care system.

As a lifelong health care professional, I have seen first-hand the devastating impact Obamacare has on health care in America, especially in South Georgia where I served patients for more than 30 years. This misguided law has driven up costs, taken away choices, and inserted Washington bureaucrats in to one of the most personal aspects of our lives: our health. It contained $1 trillion in new taxes, kicked 4.7 million Americans off their health care, and created a new class of uninsured with 19.2 million Americans who could not afford the coverage offered them.

I supported the American Health Care Act, which was our plan to rescue patients and families from the Obamacare train wreck. While imperfect, it put aside the failed policies of the past and built on the best ideas from around the country. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office confirmed it would lower costs and empower patients to make their health care decisions. I was disappointed this bill was not brought to the floor for a vote.

Please know that this is not the end. I will not stop working until we empower all patients with access to quality, affordable, patient-centered health care.

Thank you, again, for contacting me and for the benefit of your input. It is an honor to represent you in the United States Congress.

Josh: The Podcast, Episode 50: Telling stories

Some real American originals have died since we last spoke. Let's talk stories.

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Bill Morrissey
Edson by Morrissey
Mississippi John Hurt
Tommy Shea
Sean Kirst
Suzanne Strempek Shea
Songs from a Lead-lined Room, by Suzanne Strempek Shea
The Soul of Central New York, by Kirst
Chuck Berry died
Jimmy Breslin died
Chuck Barris died
Tom Wolfe
Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, by Wolfe
William S. Burroughs
Hunter S. Thompson
Charles Bukowski

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Of stories and storytellers: Farewell to the ‘unlettered bum’

Clifton Pollard's name was queried on Google more on Sunday than it had been perhaps any other day except for one — Nov. 22, 2013, the fiftieth anniversary of the death of President John F. Kennedy.

I'll save you the search, if you don't recognize the name. Pollard was the man who, on a Sunday morning, finished his bacon and eggs, went to Arlington National Cemetery, climbed into a reverse backhoe, and dug the grave into which Kennedy's casket would be lowered.

He made $3.01 per hour, and he came in on his day off.

He didn't get to go to the funeral. It was too crowded.

We know about Clifton Pollard because a New York Herald Tribune columnist named Jimmy Breslin wrote about him.

On April 5, 1992, Pollard, a World War II veteran, died and was soon after buried not too far from our thirty-fifth president.

Breslin died over the weekend at the age of 88. He had, earlier in the week, been admitted to the hospital to be treated for pneumonia and released the next day. His wife thought he was getting better and his death came as a surprise to her.


Breslin was part of a generation of hard-scrabble storytelling journalists. He wrote stories, not articles. He drank whiskey. He smoked cigars. He scorned reporters who stayed in the newsroom, and instead wandered the streets, pubs and tenements of New York, speaking to people.

It's a storied generation — one that included Hunter S. Thompson, Norman Mailer, Truman Capote, Tom Wolfe and Gore Vidal. Most of them predeceased Breslin.

While journalism — and the rest of the world, frankly — has certainly changed in the couple of generations since Breslin went and found Pollard, there are remnants of his world. I recently found in a used bookstore a collection of essays by PJ O'Rourke. Younger essayists like Doug Rushkoff and Chuck Klosterman certainly carry forth a biting witness. My friend Tommy Shea was so well-loved at The Republican that even the competition wrote him a nice sendoff. My friend and former colleague Sean Kirst had the same impact in Syracuse, and has now moved on.

Reading Shea and Kirst in print — actual newsprint still feels, and smells, familiar to me — put me in mind of a time I never really got to know. But the writing is still there. Wolfe is still writing books and the occasional column. Count among Breslin's non-journalistic contemporaries William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Charles Bukowski and Jack Kerouac.

These are not easy men to read, but once you start, it's nigh impossible to stop.


Yes, the world has changed. You won't find many smoky bars anymore. Nor too many people in suits willing to walk into a slum in search of a story (nor many people willing to talk to them if they did).

Breslin was the sort of guy who was able to find not only Clifton Pollard but also a man named Tony Palma.

If that name doesn't sound familiar, I'll again save you the searching. Palma was once a long-haired Beatles fan in the 1960s, and later, on December 8, 1980, he was the police officer, along with his partner, Herb Frauenberger, who responded to a call of, "Man shot, 1 West 72nd St." That night, they helped a dying John Lennon.

And Breslin had his interview conducted and typed up that night in time for 1:30 a.m. deadline.

It takes hours or days to get that kind of access to some people in uniform nowadays. That's not a complaint; it's just the world we live in.


There are stories, and there are storytellers, and there are people who read stories.

I think a lot of people would like to claim to be the second, but to do so, you have to truly understand the first. And that's a hell of a craft. You'll know who they really are, because they attract the third.

Many people have stories — hell, many people are stories — they just don't know it. It takes a real storyteller to pry the stories out of those folks.

It's why we'll read a headline or a couple of sentences in almost everything we click on these days, but we'll read giant novels by Wolfe and Carlos Ruiz Zafon. It's why we'll read Kirst's book of Central New York stories.

Breslin told stories. They were stories of New York and New Yorkers, and people felt they knew him and the stories. Maybe that's why David Berkowitz — the Son of Sam killer — wrote him letters.

Sometimes the stories don't realize what they are. You might think you have a story to tell, but the one that comes out when a storyteller gets a hold of it may be entirely different.


"You climb the stairs," Breslin is quoted as saying, "and all the stories are at the top of the stairs."

Maybe it's a simple metaphor for doing the work ‐ climb the stairs while everyone takes the elevator, or just stays in the lobby. Or maybe it's a simple instruction manual. When you climb enough stairs, there are certainly stories when you get to the top.

Breslin called himself an "unlettered bum." He certainly put a lot of letters on a lot of pages.


Be a story, or be a storyteller. Hell, be both. Or neither. But don't pretend to be either. We have enough pretenders out there.

To Mr. Breslin, ever a story and a teller, may your cigar ever be lit, your glass three fingers full and your typewriter ready for some punishment.

Josh: The Podcast, Episode 49: St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah

It's St. Patrick's Day in Savannah! We're one of those places with trolley tours that run 364 days a year. Christmas? Trolleys are running. New Year's? Yep. Thanksgiving? Easter? You bet. St. Patrick's Day? Nope, day off.

So, who was St. Patrick? Why do we wear green? What's with the shamrocks?

Links:
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Saint Patrick
Saint Patrick's Day
Savannah St. Patrick's Day Parade Committee
St. Patrick's Day in Savannah
Slow Carb Diet

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