Category Archives: Current Events

To Work or To Quarantine?

One of the more perplexing and upsetting things about the barrage of news about the coronavirus is the fact that its primary danger is to older, compromised people. 

I’ve always associated that with other people, but the objective fact is that, statistically, I and now my wife, Risa, are members of that group. Fortunately I don’t feel old or physically compromised. I am still playing in a young man’s game, the used machinery business, and blog writing, and I think I can compete with all comers on both fronts.

The dilemma is “how do I play it” now and when the current scare is over. My children admonish me that I must be ultra cautious because I am a heart patient who barely survived a heart attack, and several cardiovascular blockages that should have killed me eleven and a half years ago. Four bypasses, valve repair, luck, and maybe God, saved me. But now I live a normal life, exercise, work a lot, and still remember the middle name of my mother. But does that still mean that I have to act impaired when I don’t feel impaired?

Yet I am also scared enough by the virus to be self-quarantining for a couple weeks because they say I am highly vulnerable. I am a member of the old and sickly 10% of the population. 

Lloyd on quarantine at home

I was feeling pretty good about myself. I was getting cocky, complacent, and aching to get back to work at the plant, when I wrote the first draft of this blog. I knew I could keep my distance and protect myself.

Then I read about Northern Italy in the Wall Street Journal. 

I know people in Milan and Bergamo. My brother-in-law, Maury, was born in Genoa. I know the Tajariol family that owns ZPS Machine Tools quite well. They are my age.

Their world, and it is a beautiful place, is in chaos because of the coronavirus.  Hospitals are completely overwhelmed. Hundreds of human beings like me are dying everyday — alone — because people are not allowed to be with them for fear of spreading the plague faster. 

It is estimated that 60% of the Italian population has been infected. There is a real possibility of tens of thousands of people dying in Italy. 

It is a terrifying reality, and it cracked my bubble of cockiness about myself and America when I read it.

China is beating the virus back now. Korea is too. Civil liberties and privacy are being abused by the government to snoop on people to guarantee separation and quarantine, but in this case it seems necessary.

In America we are depending more on individuals using common sense and tending to themselves for the greater good.

I am going to do my part. See you on the “other side.”

Question: Are you working or quarantining?

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Ep. 72 – Coronavirus and the Supply Chain with Daniel Hearsch

By Noah Graff

On today’s podcast we’re delving into a topic that’s been on many people’s minds these days, the coronavirus.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast

Our guest is automotive supply chain expert Dan Hearsch, Managing Director at AlixPartners. Dan is briefed daily by his associates in China about how people in manufacturing are dealing with the coronavirus. FYI, this interview was conducted one week ago on Feb. 26, 2020.

Main Points

(2:55) Dan gives his background working in the automotive industry for OEMs, as well as Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers. Today he is a consultant, focusing on supply chain and procurement projects.

(3:55) Dan says many people have been comparing the coronavirus, also known as Covid-19, to SARS, the last serious epidemic in Asia back in 2003. He says the big difference between the SARS outbreak and the current one is that in 2003, China was roughly only 4% of global GDP, while today China has a much more significant role in the global supply chain and its own internal economy is much larger than it was 17 years ago.

(5:30) Dan says one of the hardest things about the coronavirus outbreak is knowing what the local response is going to be. He says that it seems like the quarantine policies in China, Korea, and Italy are the correct response.

(6:00) Dan says he’s briefed daily on the latest news in China from his associates in there. The news is based on what they are seeing from the Chinese government and what they are seeing in real time from the companies with whom they work.

Daniel Hearsch of AlixPartners

(6:55) Dan says he hears there is a decreased incidence of new coronavirus cases and the death numbers seems to be falling, which makes people hopeful that business will get better soon. He says the worst thing to do is to send people back to work too soon because they could get sick again and the quarantine process would have to start over.

(7:40) Dan says the Chinese New Year amplified the spread of the coronavirus because of all the people traveling back to their homes in the countryside. However, he said that from a business standpoint the Chinese New Year was helpful because people who buy goods from China were already planning for an eight day shut down. People had planned to have extra material already in transit on the water, but had not planned for further delays.

(9:40) Dan says the majority of factories in China that were down have opened up again. He sites a Chinese government survey of 982 enterprises that said 41% had resumed by February 14 and predicts over 80% should be back up and running this month. He says the biggest problems relate to transportation and workforce issues because a significant number of people are quarantined or have trouble traveling. His sources say that Chinese manufacturers in the survey are running at only 30-40% of their potential productivity. The Chinese government is comparing the current electricity usage in various industrial areas to past years to gage productivity. It found that the level of usage was about 57% that it was at this same time of year in 2018 and 2019.

(12:15) Dan says that the automotive sector has a very lean supply chain, meaning companies hold very little safety stock, which makes it vulnerable to the decrease in supplier productivity.

(16:40) Dan says that some North American manufacturing companies are going shorten their supply chains as China, Korea, and Italy can’t supply enough parts. He says this trend would lend itself to machining processes that are fast to set up. He says capacity shouldn’t be a big problem because the domestic automotive market has been down of late.

(18:50) Dan says China has both a supply and a demand problem because many of the domestic customers who buy parts are also closed. This differs from the United States that only has a supply problem because companies are still purchasing goods and consumers are still buying.

(20:40) Dan says that many of the large scale supply chain problems caused by the coronavirus are not new. He draws a comparison to the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in 2011, which exposed the problems that occur when companies have too many suppliers concentrated in one region and do not have enough relationships with backup suppliers.

(23:45) Noah asks if the pharmaceutical supply chain in China has similar issues as automotive. Dan says the problems are probably similar. He says the transportation issues could be significant as suppliers try to catch up on a backlog of shipments, though he predicts the production processes might not be as labor intensive as those of automotive.

(27:45) Dan says that the coronavirus is a common type of virus—the same type of virus as the common cold. He says the Covid-19 epidemic is quite contagious and has a high fatality rate of 2.5-3% compared to .05% for typical flu. He says limiting personal contact with other people and washing hands regularly is the best practice to protect oneself against the virus. He says that a lot of people make mistakes such as wearing the wrong type of protective masks and wearing a mask more than one time.

(31:20) Dan says if the United States has an outbreak the impact on its economy shouldn’t be as dramatic as China’s. A higher percentage of people have the ability to work remotely while quarantined because a smaller percentage work in factories. Still, he admits an outbreak will still significantly affect the domestic supply chain.

(33:30) Dan says out of China’s study of 982 surveyed Chinese companies 42% of those enterprises will run out of cash in the next three months and 10% will run out of cash in one month because they can’t cover their fixed costs. He says it is likely the Chinese government will act as a safety net, though he is not familiar with the bankruptcy laws there.

(36:40) Dan says the best case scenario is that the most problematic countries get the Covid-19 epidemic under control and it doesn’t become a global pandemic. He says it is possible that in 4 to 5 months most suppliers will be back up to speed in the problematic countries.

(38:25) Dan says the precautionary health measures by governments seem to be the correct plan to deal with the coronavirus epidemic. He says saving people’s lives is more important than keeping factories running, not just for humanitarian reasons, but also for long-term business success.

(39:30) Dan says it is vital for manufacturers to set up alternate suppliers as soon as possible to prepare for a pandemic or other supply chain setbacks.

Question: Have you noticed supply chain interruptions due to the coronavirus affecting your business?

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Mobility is the Game

By Lloyd Graff

I’m in the mood for sports today.  In baseball, Washington won the World Series for the first time after losing Bryce Harper to the Phillies. And they won it in seven games, winning all four played at Houston’s ballpark. Never happened before. And the Nationals’ best pitcher, Matt Scherzer, got hurt in the Series.  Unpredictable game.

In football, the traditional drop-back quarterback, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, is being gradually surpassed by the mobile, elusive running quarterback.  The three most likely MVP quarterbacks this year are Russell Wilson, Lamar Jackson, and Patrick Mahomes.  All were misjudged coming out of college and fell in the draft because they didn’t look like Brady or Brees.  Wilson was a third-round pick for Seattle, Jackson was the last pick of the first round for Baltimore, and Mahomes was thought by many football savants to be a better pitcher than QB.

College football is also seeing change. The two top candidates for the Heisman Trophy this year are both transfer students who were not deemed to be good enough to start for the college teams they were recruited for out of high school.

Joe Burrow sat three years at Ohio State.  He did study enough to graduate from OSU which made him eligible to transfer to LSU and play football without the usual NCAA baloney that restricts the transfer of athletes.

He played well last year but has been amazing this season, throwing for 55 touchdowns and leading the Tigers to the top seeding in the national playoffs.

The Ohio State quarterback, Justin Fields, also had an undistinguished career at Georgia. He graduated but had a year of eligibility left. OSU’s All-American from last year, Dwayne Haskins, was the first-round pick of Washington after his junior year which left an opening for Fields with the Buckeyes. This year he threw for 40 touchdowns with one interception.

Potential MVP Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks

It brings to mind the one season that Russell Wilson had at Wisconsin. He had had an okay career at North Carolina State, graduated with eligibility, and played minor league baseball till the Badgers called him for a last college hurrah. He was only 5’9” tall but played like a giant leading the team to the Rose Bowl and setting up his current NFL MVP status with the Seattle Seahawks.

To end this, let’s throw in a little NBA. Kawhi Leonard led the Toronto Raptors to the NBA Championship after a difficult, injury-riddled year with San Antonio. Some folks saw Leonard as temperamental and even faking the severity of his injuries while with the Spurs. He wanted out of Texas for his last season before becoming a free agent in 2019.

Toronto had an awful playoff record despite having good players. They gambled on trading for Leonard, knowing it might just be for one year. Kawhi recovered from his injuries, carried the team to the playoffs, and then played inspired basketball to help them win the NBA title.  And in the off season he headed home to Los Angeles and signed a mega contract with the LA Clippers.

Sports changed a lot in 2019. The athletes took more and more control over their short playing careers.

Questions:

Are today’s professional athletes too selfish?

Who is your NFL MVP for 2019?

 

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Under the Tarp

By Lloyd Graff

Homeless people spook me. I hate it when somebody wearing a sign proclaiming their homelessness, holding a cup and looking forlorn, shoves the cup toward me begging for coins. Yet their plight, if they really are homeless, is a terrible thing.

It struck me hard recently when Noah and I were driving to a business conference in the city concerning hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of unsold screw machines.  We drove by a tiny makeshift shelter covered by a couple of blue tarps next to an apartment building which appeared empty and possibly being prepared for demolition in an area in the process of “gentrification” in Chicago.

It was a raw day in November ahead of Thanksgiving.   I saw nobody around it.  The blowing tarps were a more hurtful reminder of the misery of life on the street without a roof to call your own.

It brought to mind a story my friend Jerry Levine had told me at one of our weekly Saturday breakfast idea fests recently.  Jerry had volunteered to help kids at a Chicago high school several years ago.  One of the kids who was a star student had a problem giving an address of his residence.  The reason was that he was sleeping in a dumpster.  We have a dumpster at Graff-Pinkert.  Occasionally I haul a plastic bag of office garbage out to the dumpster.  Every time I look inside I think of that poor kid climbing inside and probably covering up and trying to keep warm with a blue tarp he hid away.

By the way, Jerry said the kid ended up getting a full scholarship to a prestigious college, somehow.

Chicago homeless sleeping under tarps

For many years I volunteered at a local homeless shelter.  It rotated among various churches and synagogues in the neighborhood I lived in.  I came in at 5:15 a.m. and helped clean and put the mats away the shelter people slept on, gave out toothpaste and Band-Aids, and cleaned up after breakfast was served.  It was a good education for me, that homeless guys (there were only guys at this shelter) were mostly just human beings who were at a down part of their lives.  Some had jobs (fast food joints, car washes, guards), but usually the jobs didn’t last long enough to enable them to get an apartment that required deposits and credit checks.  Many had drug and drinking problems.  A lot of them hung around the local White Castle or McDonald’s till they were urged to move along.  A few had cars; some of the younger guys rode bikes. I once hired one of the friendlier men, but he did not last long because of a chronic drinking issue.

The rotating homeless shelter no longer exists at the local synagogue.  My friend Jerry Levine and other local people somehow managed a minor miracle.  They found a mayor in the area who, rather than avoid a permanent shelter in his town, embraced the idea.  He claimed his mother on her deathbed told him to do it.  There was an unloved piece of real estate that the mayor obtained for granting zoning privileges to a developer who wanted to build a shopping center in the village.  The three-acre piece was far enough away from neighbors that nobody yelled much.  Jerry and friends with government connections got every grant the government had on the books and built a $18-million multi-story building for homeless people with good credentials to get nice temporary apartments.

Someday I hope the poor people under the blue tarps in Chicago or kids like the one living in the dumpster find their way out to that beautiful haven in Country Club Hills, Illinois, within walking distance of my office.

Question: Do you prefer to give money to people on the street or to an organized charity?

 

 

 

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I’ll Take What I Can Get

By Lloyd Graff

Lisa Goldman is living with a Stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis. She writes a blog called Every Breath I Take, aimed at people like herself.

In her latest piece she talks about surpassing five years on her medication, which she says has a “median effective time of 18 months.” She says she knows of less then six people in the world with her diagnosis who have been on her medication that long or longer. She writes, “It is oddly isolating, way, way, out here on this ever-narrowing branch with this ever-dwindling number of fellow-travelers. My doctors keep telling me the branch will break at some point, and the longer I’m here, the closer I am to that breaking point, prompting the doctors to be more and more vigilant with me, rather than less.”

Lisa Goldman knows she’s not cured, yet she writes, “The truth is, it is hard not to get a little comfortable out on this narrow limb. As I drift ever closer to a likely recurrence, I also log more and more days, weeks and months and years without one, strengthening my ability to paradoxically feel positive and hopeful for a miracle. I’m not naive, but I have tracked myself into an unlikely optimism. I’m locked in a positivity paradox. And, frankly? Like my husband often says: I’ll take what I can get.”

Me too. I’ll take it.

Happy Thanksgiving. It’s a great gift to be able to feel good and celebrate in America.

Question: What is one thing that makes you happy to be alive?

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The Greenland Story

By Lloyd Graff

What do you do when you go for a brief vacation to the Bay Area to visit family?

Naturally, you study up on the history of Greenland.

Greenland is getting some interest these days.  Donald Trump, still a real estate developer at heart, recently tossed out the idea that the United States should buy it from Denmark.  Of course, the Danes put a kibosh on the deal, which may mean negotiations have begun.

A recent scholarly article published by Northwestern University geologists has proven that Erik the Red, the Viking who fled Iceland after a murder and conviction in 985, colonized a much more temperate Greenland than was previously thought.  It was in the 50° range many months of the year, making it a good place to raise animals, fish, and harvest ivory.  About 350 to 400 years later a “little ice age” seemed to discourage many Greenlanders, and they left.

In the last few years, old Norse settlements have been discovered as the climate appears to be becoming more temperate, and real estate developer types are finding renewed interest.

Why this is so interesting today and so disturbing to me in the heart of Silicon Valley, with one of the most benign climates in the world?

It seems like so many folks here are paranoid about “the existential threat of climate change.”  Living in the Midwest, climate change is generally a footnote to most political and economic discussions.  Even most of the Democratic politicians running for the Presidency in 2020 do not make it a major emphasis, probably because their polling data indicates it does not move the needle in the crucial early primary states.

But in California, among the intelligentsia of Silicon Valley and malleable young people who hear the voice of doom about the planet burning up in their lifetime which is expounded almost every day in school and their media, it is a real fear. They do not know that Greenland was mild 1,000 years ago, then got very cold, and now is getting more tolerable again.  They don’t know what they don’t know.

I do believe the climate on Earth is getting slightly warmer now, but it does not worry me.  People are very smart, and a capitalist economy will adapt very quickly and make it into a net positive.

What does worry me is that kids are being indoctrinated in school and by Facebook and TV on the huge danger they face, and, ultimately, bad public policy decisions will be made that seriously undermine our prosperity.

If one bought into conspiracy theories, the manipulative tentacles of Vladimir Putin and Russia could be seen all over “the existential threat of climate change.”

Putin did not invent “climate change,” but long ago he came to the conclusion that Russia’s economy was backward and almost totally dependent on oil and gas for hard currency.  Nobody wants a Russian dishwasher or car or machine tool.  If you are Putin, and his new buddies the Saudis, you desperately want American oil fracking to end and the 6 million barrels a day it produces to go away.  If he can shrewdly manipulate American public opinion to embrace the climate change disaster theory and boost the “kill dirty fracking” line he wins the game, and we have $80-$100 per barrel oil again.

Theories about the weather go hot and cold.  Check out the Greenland story.

Question: Do you believe climate change is mainly caused by people?

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Not About Money

By Lloyd Graff

Let’s start with a discussion of two labor strikes that affect my life.

The General Motors strike that may be in its final stages is less about money than it is about control. GM and the UAW seemingly agreed on the basic pay issues before the strike even started.  What GM President Mary Barra and the GM Board were really concerned about was the ability to make key decisions such as closing a factory or moving work to Mexico without the UAW having veto power.  Indication of that is workers at the Spring Hill, Tennessee, plant voting against the settlement because they see it as an opportunity for GM to continue to use a significant number of temporary workers to staff the factory. GM is offering $60,000 buyouts to older workers.  The strategy of GM is to hire younger, cheaper employees.  To younger factory workers it appears the union is selling them out.  There appears to be a power struggle between younger and older workers for control of the UAW.

GM employees and Chicago school teachers have something in common

Another factor involved in the GM approach is the comparative financial weakness of Ford and Fiat Chrysler.  The UAW has little power in most foreign builders’ plants but still has a strong grip on Ford and FAC workers.  The GM-UAW settlement will be very difficult for these companies to accept in a weakening vehicle market requiring potentially massive changeover costs to electric vehicles.

*   *    *    *    *

The Chicago Teachers Union strike is also about power and control, not so much about wages.

Chicago has a new mayor, Lori Lightfoot.  She is an unusual political newcomer to Chicago.  She is an African-American lawyer and Yale graduate from Massillon, Ohio, with no ties to the Democratic machine which has run Chicago for 60 years.  She trounced the machine candidate Toni Preckwinkle 3 to 1, winning every single ward in the city.  Preckwinkle was backed by the Teachers Union and other city unions, and the strike is their attempt at revenge.  If the union “wins” it will strangle the city, which is already in desperate financial shape, by forcing more borrowing at 10% or more and essentially bankrupting Chicago.  Preckwinkle and the Union apparently think they can pick up the pieces of a failed Lightfoot tenure.  Meanwhile, the kids are out of school, the schools are half empty when in session because many are in poor repute, and wages and benefits are already among the highest in the country.

*  *   *   *   *

The World Series and the NBA season both start tonight (when I’m writing this).

Houston and Washington in Major League Baseball are shockingly similar teams.  Both have two potential Hall of Fame starters and excellent third starters who played for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season.  In Alex Bregman and Anthony Rendon at third base, respectively, they have likely MVPs at the hot corner.  Both have outstanding outfields, decent bullpens, and good defensive catchers.  The one clear edge goes to Houston where Jose Altuve plays for the Astros.  The 5’6” Altuve is the most charismatic player in baseball and perhaps the best all-around star in the game.

The NBA is hard to figure in October with 82 games and the playoffs lasting into June.  LeBron is with the Lakers, and Anthony Davis joins him.  Kawhi Leonard has moved to the LA Clippers to team with an overrated Paul George who is already injured.

The Golden State Warriors still possess Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, but Thompson is recovering from a torn ACL.  Kevin Durant is gone so Steph needs to score 46 points a game.

In the East the Boston Celtics will probably be better without the selfish Kyrie Irving.  Milwaukee has the unpronounceable “Greek Freak,” and Philly boasts the brute, Joel Embiid, and Ben Simmons who can’t shoot at all.

And finally, Houston still has James Harden and his step-back jumper that nobody else can do nearly as well as he can.

The NBA will be fun again in April.

Question: Is salary the first thing you look at when considering a job offer?

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Talking to Strangers

By Noah Graff

Not long ago our company made a deal to purchase a significant amount of machinery outside the United States. The deal seemed like a great opportunity, but we thought the sensible thing would be to visit the seller before making any purchase because he was someone who we had never met before.

I traveled a long way to meet him, and we spent several days together looking at machines. He brought his wife along with him for the whole trip. We had dinners together during which they told me about their children. His wife repeatedly acted like a concerned mother when she noticed my runny nose. They seemed like decent people, and they gave us a good price so we made a significant deposit on some machines. In the end, things did not go as planned. The company attempted to pocket the deposit and did not send any machines.

We felt dumb. We asked ourselves, how could we not have realized we were being conned?

I recently finished listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, Talking to Strangers, which sheds some light on our experience. The thesis of Talking to Strangers is that the majority of people are incapable of judging the true character of others based solely on “getting to know” them. The book contains many powerful examples of people who seemed genuine but then turned out to be liars, along with other examples of people who seemed suspicious but turned out to be innocent.

Talking to Strangers - What We Should Know About The People We Don’t Know, by Malcolm Gladwell.Early in the book, Gladwell tells a story about multiple double agents in the CIA who spied for Cuba for many years before being uncovered. The agents who were supposed to be spying on Cuba were in actuality spies for Cuba! U.S. Intelligence agents who were supposed to have been “experts” on judging the honesty of other people were made to look like complete fools.

Gladwell discusses another example of flawed human character assessment in a passage about judges in New York whose job is to choose which suspects should be released on bail and who is too risky to let out of custody. Several elite computer scientists, a Harvard economist and a bail expert from the University of Chicago created a computer program to research the ability of the judges for discerning which suspects should be released. From 2008 to 2013 550,000 defendants were brought for arraignment to the group of New York judges, and the judges released just over 400,000.

The researchers built an artificial intelligence system and fed it the same information that had been given the judges in the 550,000 arraignment cases, mainly the defendant’s age and criminal record. The artificial intelligence system chose its own 400,000 defendants to be released over that time period to see which 400,000 releasees committed the fewest crimes on bail and made their trial date. The 400,000 released by the computer were 25% less likely to commit a crime than those chosen by the judges. The computer program only had the defendant’s age and rap sheet to make its judgment, while the judges also got to hear the arguments from the lawyers and look the defendants in the eye.

Gladwell also writes about Neville Chamberlain misjudging Hitler after meeting him several times. He writes about the people who misjudged Bernie Madoff and sex offenders such as Jerry Sandusky and Larry Nassar.

Gladwell says that the usual inclination of people is to “default to truth.” People want to trust other people because that trust is what makes society function. If the default opinion of a youth sports team coach is that they are a pedophile nobody would let their child play on a team, and nobody would take a job as a coach.

If my default opinion of every person selling machines is they are trying to cheat me, I will never be able to make any deals. Business must go on, and life goes on because I know most people are relatively honest. Going forward I will try to keep my guard up, and I won’t put as much stock into looking people in the eye.

Questions:

Do you trust most people you do business with?

Have you ever been conned?

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Baseball Hug

By Lloyd Graff

By the end of the phone conversation, we were both in tears. My daughter, Sarah, and I were lamenting the collapse of the Chicago Cubs again this year, right after they had blown their fifth game in a row in the last inning. It wasn’t the pain of the loss that caused the tears 2,000 miles apart during our cell phone hug. It was the raw emotion of the moment shared that epitomized thousands of moments of exultation and despair over a team that we both love.

This is the time of year Sarah and I talk sermons and baseball. She is a rabbi in the Bay Area, and her congregants know that somehow she will make a Cubs reference in her most listened to sermon of the year on Yom Kippur. For me, it is a treasured opportunity to reconnect with my first-born child, who I love deeply and respect so much.

How many of those ineffable shared moments do you get in a lifetime, when you both realize that there is just a finite number of those precious times left and you’d better grab and squeeze it like it’s a long fly ball that you have to leap for at the ivy in Wrigley Field and hold on to as you hit the bricks?

Sarah doesn’t know every batting average or the meaning of all of Javy Baez’s tattoos, or the kinds of cancers Jon Lester and Anthony Rizzo beat early in their Major League careers, like I do. But she has the love, the passion, and the hurting of a true fan.

Sarah’s husband, Scott, who I often text with during games, shares the whole Cubs thing with me, too. When Scott got back home last Sunday after attending a high school reunion in the suburbs of Chicago over the weekend, one of the first things he did was call me to commiserate over the implosion of our beloved Cubs to the hated Cardinals.

I love Scott as a person, as a husband for Sarah, and a wonderful father,  but as lifelong bleeding Cubbie blue fans, we have something very special that few in-laws have—that sharing of moments, the jumping for joy feeling that makes up for those terrible emotions of watching a walk-off homer for the opposition in the ninth inning.

When I read the morning sports page, I often wonder why I spend so much time on the Cubs. Why do I still feel like Ernie Banks is my first cousin? Why do I still think of the Chicago Cubs when I bring up the memory of my mother, Thais Graff?

It’s the moments. It’s the moments that turn memory into feeling tears. You don’t know when they will come, but when you experience them, picture them, place them in the frame of your life, they bring a special joy that punctuates the everyday hurly burly.

This season has been a disappointment for me and the Cubs. It has been a long, often sad journey, but it has given me so many marvelous moments to share with Sarah and Scott and my wife, Risa, who has become a fan in her 60s, and Noah, and my granddaughters.

When I experience one of those shared moments, when I feel welling tears of shared emotion that don’t require any words, I feel so grateful to have my Cubs.

Question: Do you bond with your family over sports?

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My Other Country

By Lloyd Graff

As I write this piece, Tuesday’s election in Israel is too close to call. Bibi Netanyahu and Benny Gantz are running neck-and-neck again. This is the second election because Netanyahu could not form a government after the first one in April, though he had a tiny majority of the seats in the 120-seat parliamentary free-for-all.

Why does this election mean a lot to me?

Israel is my country, almost as much as America is.

It was born when I was three, in 1948. Its wars were my wars. Much more than Vietnam, which was my war to fear and despise, Israel’s wars in 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973 were the wars I felt in my bones. These wars were the wars where I prayed for victories. These were the wars that absolutely could not be lost, because that would have meant death to the heart and soul of the Jewish people.

I’m sure it is very hard for most people to understand how I feel about Israel – even for many younger Jews today

I am not a Holocaust survivor. I am not the child of a survivor, but I truly identify with their suffering. The passion of the survivors to build something great out of the ashes of their parents and relatives, as well as the passion of the children of the early settlers from Eastern Europe who did not come to America but lived the dream of making something wonderful out of the sand and dirt of the Holy Land, was a feeling I always connected with.

I have always been extremely emotional about Israel. I am sure I have mythologized it since I read Leon Uris’ book Exodus and watched Paul Newman in the movie. My wife and I named our first son Ari, the name of Newman’s character in the movie.

For most of my adult life my biggest charitable contributions have been to support Eretz Yisrael, the Hebrew name for Israel. I have only visited twice, but I think and dream about Israel often.

I am interested in the current election but not excited about it. From a practical standpoint, there is not that much to distinguish between the leaders, Netanyahu and Gantz, on the issues I care so deeply about, except that Gantz is allied with the secular parties.

They are both warriors who achieved their fame and importance through military service. Bibi Netanyahu spent part of his childhood in America and achieved a name partly from the valor of his brother who died on the Entebbe raid to free the Israelis whose plane was hijacked to Uganda.

Benny Gantz was a top general in the Israeli Defense Forces. They both stand for Israeli strength in the face of hundreds of millions of Arabs who hate the tiny Jewish Nation.

Netanyahu has the luster of presiding over the economic stardom of the country in recent years, as a cheerleader of “Startup Nation.” He has also been tarnished by pettiness, corruption, nasty politics, and unholy alliances with ultra-Orthodox religious parties.

Gantz and the opposition coalition have made the election about Bibi, just as the Democrats will make 2020 about Donald Trump, one of Netanyahu’s fans.

I have been listening lately to Steven Pressfield’s stunning book, The Lion’s Gate, about Israel and the 1967 six-day war against the Arabs led by Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Reading about the incredible valor and brilliance of 20-year-old Israel with 2.7 million people fighting alone for survival against the Russian-equipped armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq is inspiring. I know Israel is not pure and unblemished. No country is. But I love it to my core. It is an integral part of my life. I really don’t care who wins the election as long as Israel always wins.

Question:  Does Israel mean something to you?

 

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