Life in My Seventies, Study: Billionaires Not that Smart, Study: Loneliness as Dangerous as Smoking, NBA Social Justice Champion Finalists, Elon Gets It Wrong (Again), Joan Baez Sings, and More
My take on news, pop culture, sports, and whatever else interests me.
Life in the Red Zone
I recently turned 76, and for the past six years, I’ve been living in the Red Zone. The Red Zone is when famous people keep dying at around the same age as you are. (Last month Tim Bachman, co-founder of Bachman-Turner Overdrive, died at the age of 71. So did Lasse Wellander, the longtime guitarist for ABBA. He was 70.)
The Red Zone is like the section of a car’s gas gauge just past E that, when the needle hovers over it, you’re never sure exactly how many miles you have left before the car conks out. You’re still going strong, but you’re not sure for how long.
Of course, it’s not just famous people dying, but those are the ones I read about with their 70-something ages prominently displayed like flashing warning lights directed at me.
I don’t dwell on death. I don’t fidget over impending doom. I’m not crafting pithy last words. (I might just use Oscar Wilde’s last words: “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go.”) Quite the opposite. Like most people over sixty, I’m actually happier than when I was younger (“Older Americans upbeat about aging, future”).
Two reasons I’m happier: 1. I have perfected the power of “no.” If I don’t want to do something, I just say no. I’m not chasing after a career anymore, so I only do what interests me or helps someone else. I can’t be guilted. 2. I don’t worry about what people think of me. I accomplished what I wanted as a player, as a writer, and as a person. Sure, I made mistakes, and there are things I regret, but I’ve come to terms with them. If my records are broken, I don’t feel diminished. Want to say something nasty about me on social media? Have at it. It affects me as much as a barking dog in the next neighborhood.
Religions, philosophers, and writers all tell us the road for all of us ends at either “good death” or “bad death.” That is the ultimate prize—or punishment. Good death is when we arrive at the end and are happy because we have lived a life in keeping with our values, knowing we have done good and inspired love in others. Bad death is when we reach the end knowing we have betrayed our values, exploited others for our own gain, and are alienated from our true selves and isolated from others.
A couple weeks ago, I vacationed with all my children and grandchildren. I was immersed in love and gratitude. That, too, is the Red Zone. I am never past loving them, guiding them, doing all I can to help them—but I am past being responsible for them. I can just appreciate them for who they are.
I still have passions and goals besides my friends and family. I have books and documentaries I’m writing. I have work with my Skyhook Foundation promoting STEM education. I have social injustices I want to fight against. And I have this Substack and the interaction with my subscribers.
Living in the Red Zone brings uncertainty about the future. But who doesn’t face that every day? For me, the joys of what I do daily far outweigh any concerns about how many years I have left. As long as I spend them still doing what I love, I’ll be just fine.
Billionaires Are Actually Less Intelligent Than Lower-Paid People New Study Shows (Yahoo!)
SUMMARY: New research has shattered the myth that the ultra-wealthy are the smartest people around.
According to a recent study, being a billionaire doesn't necessarily equate to having a superior intellect. In fact, the study reveals that those in the top 1% of earners, aka billionaires, scored lower on cognitive ability tests than those who earned just slightly less than they do.
The comprehensive study, conducted by researchers from Linköping University in Sweden, the European University Institute in Italy and the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, analyzed data from 59,400 Swedish men who took a military conscription test when they were young adults. The researchers then meticulously tracked their career trajectories, earnings and job prestige for over a decade, from when they were 35 until they turned 45.
The results showed a strong relationship between intelligence and earning potential until the figure exceeded $64,000 a year. Beyond this point, the correlation became almost negligible. And at the highest pay scales, intelligence plateaued, suggesting that other factors, such as socioeconomic background, culture, personality traits and luck, became more significant.
MY TAKE: Not sure what it is about some Americans that they scoff at experts (unless they need them), but are willing to follow the wealthy like loyal Shih Tzus yapping at their heels. We have an unhealthy—and now clearly inaccurate—faith in the intelligence of the wealthy (look how many we elect to political office.) Just because someone is successful in business does not mean that they have any critical thinking abilities when it comes to social or political issues, which are much more complex and nuanced. But so many people are willing to blindly follow millionaires and billionaires just because they are rich. It’s like when Tevye sings “If I Were a Rich Man” in Fiddler on the Roof:
The most important men in town would come to fawn on me!
They would ask me to advise them like a Solomon the Wise
…Posing problems that would cross a rabbi's eyes!
And it won't make one bit of difference if I answer right or wrong
When you're rich, they think you really know!
Sadly, the revelation that the rich aren’t any smarter won’t make any difference to their loyal daydream believers who need someone to tell them what to think and what to do. The one thing successful business people have learned is that if you tell people what they want to hear, they’ll follow you anywhere. The evidence is Trump’s idiocy made public on a daily basis—from his own mouth. Yet, it has no effect on his greedy followers. They are too blinded by his bragging about how rich he is (and how little taxes he pays). Don’t let the glint off their gold Rolexes blind you to the actual mediocrity coming out of their mouths.
Surgeon General Says Loneliness as Dangerous as Smoking (The Daily Beast)
SUMMARY: The surgeon general on Tuesday declared widespread loneliness a public health epidemic in the U.S., saying it poses risks as deadly as smoking a dozen cigarettes a day. A report from Dr. Vivek Murthy’s office said that around half of American adults say they’ve experienced loneliness—which can increase the risk of premature death by almost 30 percent. As well as raising the risk of a patient being diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and dementia, loneliness can also increase the risk of heart disease and strokes. “Millions of people in America are struggling in the shadows, and that’s not right,” Murthy told the Associated Press. “That’s why I issued this advisory to pull back the curtain on a struggle that too many people are experiencing.” The declaration is primarily designed to raise awareness around the issue of loneliness, reports of which have steadily increased in the U.S. in recent years, particularly during the pandemic.
MY TAKE: In his play No Exit, Existential philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said that “Hell is other people.” He was referring to all of us living in the uncomfortable state of seeing ourselves through the eyes of other people, of always feeling judged (and coming up short). The only thing worse is not having other people.
Our popular culture often celebrates the loner who moves emotionlessly through life, untouched by the rest of the world. The Western movie Shane captured that cowboy ideal when loner gunman Shane rides into town alone, as he’s always been, only to reluctantly become embroiled in the problems of a family, risking his life to defend them. He finds then that it is other people who actually give his life meaning—and redemption (the “good death” we talked about earlier).
It would be easy to dismiss, and even make fun of the pandemic of loneliness that infects so many Americans. COVID had us holed up and fearful of personal contact. People are now dating less, marrying later, working from home more, shopping from home more—basically isolating themselves like prisoners in solitary confinement. This sort of self-imposed house-arrest means less human interaction, less need for face-to-face dealings. That makes it easier to form social and political opinions in a Petri dish that is never challenged, even in friendly conversation. At home, sitting on your couch in your pajamas with a remote in one hand and chips in the other, you’re never wrong about anything. You’re a genius.
Go to the movies, go to the game, go to the party. Be a little like Jim Carrey in Yes Man and say yes to new experiences that lift you out of your comfort zone—especially if that comfort zone involves slippers, angry rants on Reddit, and binge-watching Fast & Furious movies in numerical order.
Hell may be our fear of the judgement of other people, but the ability to touch, talk to, laugh with, be loved by and love other people is pure heaven.
RELATED: “Young Americans Are Dying at Alarming Rates, Reversing Years of Progress” (The Wall Street Journal)
SUMMARY: For decades, advances in healthcare and safety steadily drove down death rates among American children. In an alarming reversal, rates have now risen to the highest level in nearly 15 years, particularly driven by homicides, drug overdoses, car accidents and suicides.
The uptick among younger Americans accelerated in 2020. Though Covid-19 itself wasn’t a major cause of death for young people, researchers say social disruption caused by the pandemic exacerbated public-health problems, including worsening anxiety and depression. Greater access to firearms, dangerous driving and more lethal narcotics also helped push up death rates.
MY TAKE: This is part of the results of the loneliness and alienation discussed in the previous article. Our youth are suffering from pressures many adults never experienced (at least, knowingly) and so are less open to accepting. For some, the issue is: why do they feel so miserable in a country where there’s so much opportunity? Why do they feel like failures when so many seem successful? Why do they not feel fulfilled even after achieving the success their parents wanted for them?
In Peanuts, Linus says, “There is no greater burden than a great potential.” That burden can crush some. Add to that a general encouragement to drinking alcohol, taking drugs, owning firearms, and handling personal problems silently, and you have a recipe for the tragic deaths of our children. Fortunately, there are many people and organizations promoting mental health awareness and treatments, slowly removing the stigma of seeking help. But clearly, we need to do much more.
Kareem’s Video Break
Terrific singer, but even more terrific assistant.
Think of this Substack as an ice cream store. You’ve been coming in every day sampling the flavors. Maybe it’s time to buy a cone so the store can stay in business.
This Week in Good News
2022-23 NBA Social Justice Champion finalists revealed (NBA)
SUMMARY: The NBA today announced that Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, Memphis Grizzlies forward-center Jaren Jackson Jr., San Antonio Spurs guard Tre Jones, Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul and Boston Celtics forward Grant Williams have been selected as the five finalists for the 2022-23 NBA Social Justice Champion award, inspired by the work and legacy of Hall of Famer and Civil Rights Icon Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The five finalists represent the year’s most impactful social justice advocates who are continuing NBA players’ decades-long tradition of activism. The annual award recognizes a current NBA player for pursuing social justice and advancing Abdul-Jabbar’s life mission to engage, empower and drive equality for individuals and groups who have been historically marginalized or systemically disadvantaged.
The finalists were determined from the pool of team nominees by the NBA Social Justice Champion selection committee, comprised of the following social justice leaders and members of the NBA family: Abdul-Jabbar, Director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport Dr. Richard Lapchick, National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial, UnidosUS President and CEO Janet Murguía, Rise Founder and CEO Amanda Nguyen, and NBA Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer Mark Tatum are in their third year on the committee, as well as Leah Harmon, the 2022-23 youth representative and member of the Jr. NBA Court of Leaders.
MY TAKE: Each one of these men is deserving of recognition for the generosity they show in enriching their communities and in setting heroic examples for young people who look up to athletes. Please click on this link to read the remarkable effort each has made to bring about social justice at a time when so many politicians are actively marginalizing and exploiting people. The award is meant to raise awareness about the work being done by these committed athletes—and to highlight the work that still needs to be done.
This Week in Dumb Stuff Said by Famous People
Elon Musk Self-Owned by Twitter Community Notes for Texas Shooter Claims (The Daily Beast)
SUMMARY: Elon Musk’s community notes feature on Twitter came back to bite him Tuesday night after he repeated his false claim that there was “no proof” that the Texas mall mass shooter was a white supremacist. A Twitter clip taken from Musk’s bizarre CNBC interview was quickly flagged by community notes, dispelling Musk’s statement. “Texas police have confirmed that the Allen mall shooter ‘had neo-Nazi tattoos and beliefs’ and wore a patch signifying ‘right wing death squad,’” the note read. It also corrected Musk’s repeated assertions that Bellingcat, the news organization that found further evidence of white supremacism, was nothing more than a “psyop” pusher. “Bellingcat has a history of impartial investigative journalism,” the note continued. “Police confirmed its findings on the shooter.” According to TMZ, the note had vanished by Wednesday morning for unknown reasons. Musk had earlier described community notes as a way for Twitter to become “a cybernetic collective mind for humanity.”
MY TAKE: With 140 million Twitter followers, Elon Musk has a giant megaphone when he speaks. And yet, he seems to have no ability to think critically before speaking. It seems as if every week he issues a statement that later turns out to be false. The problem is that most of the followers won’t be aware of the follow-up that reveals his lame thinking. They’ll still be chewing on the tasty-but-false cud he first fed them.
Perhaps the most disturbing realization about Musk is his inability to learn from his past mistakes. Philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This is true of countries as well as individuals. If a country doesn’t understand how leaders screwed up a century ago, how will they avoid making the same mistake? If you don’t learn from dating the wrong people, how will you know how to chose the right person?
But the most sinister part of Musk is that he has the ability to erase his mistakes from public view, as if they never happened. So, instead of a public record of his cumulative bone-headedness, each fresh wrong statement seems like the first. Unfortunately for Musk, journalists don’t forget as easily, which is why he hates them so much. While he blusters about free speech (while suppressing it in other countries), journalists are actively protecting it.
Navy SEAL Who Helped Kill bin Laden Melts Down Over Drag Queen (The Daily Beast)
SUMMARY: A Navy SEAL veteran who took credit for firing the fatal shot at Osama bin Laden had a Twitter tantrum Wednesday over the Navy’s LGBTQ+ friendly recruitment campaign. Robert J. O’Neill, a former SEAL Team Six member who was on the 2011 bin Laden raid, is furious that the one of the Navy’s former digital ambassadors is also a drag queen. “I’m done,” O’Neill tweeted Wednesday. “China is going to destroy us. YOU GOT THIS NAVY. I can’t believe I fought for this bullshit.” O’Neill’s outrage was targeted at Joshua Kelley, a yeoman 2nd class who identifies as non-binary and goes by the stage name Harpy Daniels. A Navy spokesperson told Fox News that Kelly was a digital ambassador from October 2022 to March 2023 in an initiative “designed to explore the digital environment to reach a wide range of potential candidates” while the Navy navigated “the most challenging recruitment environment it has faced since the start of the all-volunteer force.”
MY TAKE: I’m not clear what he thought he was fighting for if not the U.S. Constitution and the rights it conveys to all people to have free speech and live without being discriminated against. That’s the gig. You aren’t fighting to protect your personal beliefs and preferences.
We rightfully honor those who risk their lives in defense of this country, but having been in combat doesn’t convey a special insight or status in commenting on social issues. You are held to the same critical thinking standards as everyone else. What is the specific problem he’s complaining about? Recruiting from the LGBTQ+ community? They have undoubtedly been a part of the military since its inception, even if forced to “don’t tell.”
As for his petulant “China is going to destroy us”: if they were going to destroy us, it would more likely be through economics and using bot farms to influence our elections, which they already have been doing. Is this former SEAL okay with LGBTQ+ computer experts doing keyboard combat against those kinds of invasions?
We thank you for your service, but not for homophobic rants on social media that undermine what this country stands for.
Kareem’s Jukebox Playlist
Joan Baez: “Silver Dagger”
There was a time when folk, country, and blues were siblings from the same musical family. At their heart was a story, usually about suffering, that resonated with the audience. Marketing drove them apart to make their own ways in the world as rivals rather than family. But I’ve not forgotten the roots of the blues.
Joan Baez was a superstar of folk music in the 1960s, along with The Kingston Trio, Judy Collins, Peter, Paul and Mary, Phil Ochs and, most notably, Bob Dylan. “About suffering they were never wrong, the old Masters,” W.H. Auden wrote in his wonderful poem “Musee des Beaux Arts.” The same can be said of the master singers of folk and blues. We understood our suffering better through them. Maybe we even suffered a little less because of them.
Joan Baez also became one of the voices of the protest movements of the sixties, through speeches and music. She had extended her concern about suffering from merely the personal to the national and international.
Though Baez is now probably more famous for her 1975 confessional song, “Diamonds and Rust,” I chose this earlier song because its story about an abused mother’s crazed protection of her daughter is so haunting. The simplicity of accompanying herself on the guitar and the purity of her anguished voice give it sorrowful wallop.
Dear Kareem - I've been a fan since you were a freshman at UCLA. First as a basketball player and now as a public intellectual. I don't subscribe to many Substack columns, but yours is worth every penny. Your piece on Red Zones (I am 73, a few years behind you) is exactly on point. As a retired congregational rabbi, I confronted the death of too many family, congregants, and friends, and I have confronted my own death with an aggressive cancer 14 years ago which, at the time, was a serious condition that could well have killed me. My doctors at UCLA are superb and brought me through it. Your perspective in your paragraph about good and bad death ought to be read by everyone, old and young. Thank you for that, for your clarity of thinking about all things, and for the gift of your heart, mind, and soul that you give so frequently and generously. Onwards...Rabbi John Rosove (Los Angeles)
Kareem, on your comment on Americans’ “unhealthy … faith in the intelligence of the wealthy:” I am reminded of this quote, attributed to John Steinbeck: “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” I’m not sure about this, but it does say something about not only that unhealthy faith, but also about our culture’s bizarre fixation with the lifestyles of the rich and famous.