Hi Grandpa

The following story actually happened:

Around 10 am Wednesday morning the phone rang. I picked it up and said, “Hello”. “Hi Grandpa,” was the reply. There are few things that grandfathers like hearing more than that, though often with a bit of apprehension about the call’s purpose. I didn’t immediately recognize the caller and I didn’t want one of my grandchildren to think that I didn’t recognize their voice. I concluded that it must be my daughter’s oldest child.

“Is this you Bryce, you sound a bit different,” I said.

“Yes, sorry I have a cold,” he replied

Bryce proceeded to spell out, a bit hesitantly, the reason for his call. It was obvious that he was somewhat nervously working up to something.

“One of my coworkers caught COVID-19. On the way to get tested this morning I had an accident. I swerved into the car next to me. I had briefly taken my eyes off the road to check the GPS and hit another car. Unfortunately, when the police arrived, I told them that I had been on the phone, which, of course, is illegal. It was a mistake; I wasn’t on the phone, but now I am in jail. I want to transfer to you my lawyer to better explain things. Will you please talk to him?”

“Well, yes, of course,” I said anxiously.

The lawyer proceeded to explain that though the four people in the car Bryce struck (a man and his eight-month pregnant wife and three-year-old daughter) had been taken to the hospital, none were seriously injured. Bryce’s court date was set for the afternoon of December 15 and the lawyer was confident that Bryce would be cleared of any charges. However, as it was important to keep Bryce’s misstatement about being on the phone off the record, the lawyer had obtained a gag order prohibiting anyone from saying anything about the case. That included me.

The lawyer asked me if I was willing to put up the $16,000 bail required to get Bryce out of jail pending his court appearance. He then proceeded to ask me some “security” questions to verify my identity. For example, he asked if I could tell him Bryce’s address.

“Well, I am still in bed and I don’t have his address here, but it is off interstate 90 between Issaquah and Belview on the way to Seattle.” “So, you can confirm that he is in the state of Washington,” he asked. “Yes” I said.

The lawyer continued that Bryce was in the city jail in downtown Seattle. He explained that more local jails were full, and that the Seattle jail was the nearest one with room. He explained that while I could provide the bail money any way I wanted (and I would get all of the money back when Bryce appeared in court) anything other than cash would cause at least a two-day delay while the check or charge cleared. So obviously I would need to pay in cash if I wanted him released right away. After establishing that I was in Bethesda, MD (not Washington State) the lawyer said that he would need a bit of time to locate a bail bondsman in my area. During that time, he recommended that I take out the required cash from my bank. He stressed that because of the gag order I must not tell my bank the purpose of my cash withdrawal nor mention my Grandson’s name. He gave me the case number.  I asked him to email it to me with his name and phone number.

Before calling my bank for the appointment (currently required during the Covid-19 pandemic), I emailed my daughter: “Did you know that your son is in jail?”

The conversation with my bank was interesting. They said that they would not have that amount of cash to give me and would require several days to acquire it. I was shocked and distressed.

The lawyer called back an hour or so later to say that he had located three bail bondsmen in the Washington, DC area who could take the cash and forward the bond. When I explained that I couldn’t get that much cash for a few days he asked how much I thought I could get saying that he would go back to the judge and plead for a smaller deposit amount. I reminded him that I had not received his email yet. He said that he would check on it.

That was the last I heard from him. Moments later, my daughter emailed me to say that Bryce was at home in bed and would call me shortly, which he did. We had a fun conversation, and I was enormously relieved on several levels.

All of us have received fraudulent emails or phone calls. Of late I have had several from the “Social Security Administration” reporting fraudulent uses of my SS number. These scammers are pretty easy to spot and I never give any personal or financial information to them. I either hang up or waste as much of their time as possible. How was I tricked on this occasion? How did I so readily overlook obvious red flags?

Red flags:

When I received “Bryce’s” phone call at 10:00 am it was 7:00 am his time on the West Coast. I doubt that he has ever been out of bed that early much less to drive to a virus testing station. And I was told (and accepted without question) that he was already in jail by that time, that he had engaged a lawyer, that a judge had set the date for his court appearance, set bail, and imposed a gag order.

The gag order itself was strange.

Being jailed for talking on the phone while driving was even stranger.

The cash that must be paid to a bail bondsman is 10% of the bond and is nonrefundable (which I didn’t know at the time never having dealt with a bail bond).

How did I miss all of that? I feel like an idiot. That is what a voice saying “Hi Grandpa” will do to you.

By the way, the “lawyer’s” phone number in Banff, Alberta, Canada is +1 (403) 431-1517. Say hi for me.

The search for purpose: Nature and Nurture – Genes and culture

Every healthy boy and girl searches for the meaning and purpose of their lives. We ask why we are here and what we should do with our lives.  Where do we want to go and be in the future? How do we think we can best get there?  What should we strive for or should we strive at all?  The search for meaning can be agonizing but it is part of human nature to ask, “Who am I?”.

But we do not search in a vacuum.  That we search at all can be attributed to our genetic inheritance. Over the millennia our ancestors who pondered this question and chose and worked toward goals of mutual help and cooperation, prospered and multiplied relative to those who didn’t.  While personal and family survival and wellbeing come first, working together with others enhanced the wellbeing of both. In a fascinating presentation at the Cato Institution, Nicholas Christakis, Sterling Professor of Social and Natural Science, Yale University, discussed his new book “Blueprint: evolutionary origins of a good society”  He argued that the evolutionary survival of the fittest also favored (selected) those disposed to love, friendship, cooperation, and teaching. Homo sapiens with those qualities formed more successful and durable groups.

This happy genetic predisposition, however, was just the start, the foundation from which the search for the meaning of our lives was launched. The rest of the answer is the product of the values taught to us by, or absorbed from, our parents, family, and community and its religious and other institutions, and filtered by our reason, which is another capacity favored by evolution. The cultural values from which we learn what our peers value and respect in us can contribute to successful and prosperous societies (and their economies) or not. Children growing up in poor neighborhoods dominated by gangs are more likely to see success in terms of the demands of their gang. The esteem of their gang peers will be earned by very different behavior than in neighborhoods in which honesty and respect for the law are valued.  Gang culture does not contribute to safer, more prosperous neighborhoods or societies.

Cultures that reward cooperation, honesty, and trust enjoy more successful economies as well. Financial wealth is only one source of esteem, however, and after being well feed and well clothed, the respect of our communities probably tops the list of aspirations for our lives. The cultural values in which we map out our goals profoundly influence the choices we make.  Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” guiding our actions for our self-enrichment serves us individually and the society we live in best when functioning in a culture of mutual respect, honesty, and cooperation.  In free market, capitalist economies, individual workers and entrepreneurs profit by satisfying the wants of others. Thus, competitive capitalism encourages a culture of serving others and such a culture encourages successful economies.  These are win – win societies.

“The overwhelming weight of evidence supports the conviction that when human beings, created in the image of God as free, rational, social, and moral animals, are allowed to creatively serve each other’s needs and responsibly plan their own lives, they flourish. And when a nation’s citizens flourish, the nation as a whole flourishes as well.”  “Dylan Pahman: Why-economic-nationalism-fails-conservatism”

So where should today’s Generation Z and Millennials look to find meaning and purpose for their lives? Most of us want to “do good” for our community, country and the world as well as for ourselves and our families. Will today’s youth see this marriage of public and personal good in the world of personal freedom and responsibility described by Adam Smith, or in the world of greater central government assistance (control) advocated by Bernie Sanders?

Sanders says he is a socialist, but I doubt that he means government ownership and direction of the means of production, which is the traditional meaning of socialism.  Rather he seems to mean government provision of important goods in our lives (heath care, education, jobs, etc.)  But the provider also determines what and how to provide.  Are the key decisions in our lives to be made by each of us within the legal and cooperative framework of norms and support provided by our culture and government of limited scope, or to be determined centrally for our benefit by a larger more dominant government and its employees? Government employees no doubt feel good when they help others, but capitalism provides a financial reward for doing so as well. Human greed is more likely to be tempered by the requirements of success in free markets than in government bureaucracies.

Though the average family, and especially the poor, have never before had such wealth broadly defined, today’s world suffers many shortcomings. The social safety net of a properly limited government is not always effective or well designed.  Each person in our newest generation in seeking the esteem of its family and community will ask how best to fix these shortcomings and to address and reduce the barriers to their’s and their neighbor’s fulfillment of their potential for a rich and fulfilling life. Will they turn to the “socialism” of Bernie Sanders or the individual/family-based free market model of Adam Smith?

So called “socialism” is enjoying a resurgence of popularity among American youth today. Even before Trump’s election a majority of 18-29 year old’s viewed socialism favorably. “Why-so-many-millennials-are-socialists”  Why is this, given the strong theoretical and empirical case against it?  For one they were not alive to see its greatest failures (though we now have Venezuela and North Korea).  They seem to think of countries like Sweden as socialist. While the free market capitalist country of Sweden has a larger government than the U.S., it ranks only a bit below the U.S. on the Frasier Institute Index of Economic Freedom (8.07 versus 7.83 in 2015).  For example, Sweden adopted a nationwide universal voucher program (school choice) in 1992, well ahead of the U.S.  https://www.fraserinstitute.org/studies/economic-freedom

Like every generation before it, today’s youth wants to “do good.” They want to contribute to making the world better than it already is. Those of us who highly value our personal freedom as the basis of how we live and who have studied the weaknesses of government provided and guided economic resources [e.g., https://wcoats.blog/2020/01/25/crony-capitalism/] must take up the challenge of explaining the superiority of a family based social structure and honest, law abiding, mutual respecting, cooperative culture. While free market capitalism has produced incredible riches for almost everyone, its primary virtue, and potential appeal to Generation Z, is its promotion of caring for and serving our fellow man.

Paid Family Leave

The view that if something is good or beneficial the government should provide or mandate it is one of the attitudes dividing those who favor limited government from those favoring a more expansive and generous government. The following provides one example.

Ivanka Trump and others make a convincing case for generous paid family leave, Paid-family-leave-is-a-good-national-policy. Stephen A. Schwarzman, Founder, Chairman and CEO Blackstone, explained that Blackstone extended its paid maternity leave from 12 weeks to 16 weeks because it improved Blackstone’s bottom line – Paid-maternity-leave-is-worth-every-penny. But for all of the many reasons that big government should be resisted in general (inappropriate incentives for government bureaucrats and the public, special interest capture of policy—i.e. crony capitalism and other forms of corruption, limitations of individual freedom, inefficiency, etc.), there is not a good case for the government to get involve in mandating or subsidizing paid family leave.

Generous paid family leave programs provided by employers are smart business. Companies that offer them will have a competitive edge and thus free market firms will increasingly adopt them. Employers will be free experiment with what works best (for employees’ and companies’ bottom lines), which may well evolve over time as markets and technology change. Governments’ rarely enjoy such flexibility and are often captured by voters best able to influence government to protect their special interests, and that is never the poor. Those who are unemployed don’t need paid leave as they are already receiving unemployment compensation or welfare support for staying at home.

Maternity or family leave has facilitated bringing women into the labor force and thus increased family and national incomes. Given the importance of education to worker productivity and thus individual and national incomes, the state has also undertaken to finance (and unfortunately in most cases also to supply) education for all children from Kindergarten to 12th grade. While upper income families can easily afford to pay for this education for their children, lower income families generally cannot. Thus public financing of such education helps give all children a more equal start in live and also facilitates two worker families. A gap in such assistance exists for preschool children (age 0-5). Financial assistance should also be considered for day care or nursery schools for such children.

In most cases where a policy or practice is good for the general public, it will be adopted by free market participants and better fulfill its purpose than is possible or likely by government.

Balancing Religious Freedom and Civil Rights

The adoption last week of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) has set off a loud public debate about religious freedom and civil rights. The debate is over the best balance between our cherished beliefs in both religious freedom and civil rights, which includes tolerance of those with religious beliefs different than ours. A standard formulation of the scope of individual freedom is that it is our right to live and do as we like as long as it does not infringe on the rights of others to do the same. How we should put meat on those bones is the essence of ongoing, serious public debate.

I have blogged on this challenging topic a number of times starting with the following in November 2008: https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2008/11/11/church-and-state-in-america/ and followed in April 2010 by: https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2010/04/18/when-values-clash/

and in August 2013: https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2013/08/30/liberty-and-the-overly-prescriptive-state/

and in December 2013: https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2013/12/20/more-on-the-balance-between-the-public-and-private-sectors/

and most recently in February 2014: https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2014/02/28/arizona-and-religious-and-person-liberty/

Indiana’s RFRA is similar but not identical to the law of the same name signed into law by President Clinton in 1993 with overwhelming bipartisan support. These laws and other efforts to balance religious and other individual freedoms against the expectation of tolerance are based on the First Amendment to the US Constitution reproduced below (the first item in the Bill of Rights) and the guarantee of equal protection under the law contained in the Fourteenth Amendment adopted after the Civil War, in part to remove discrimination against African Americans. Success in establishing a good balance is critical to a healthy, vibrant and free civil society and depends more on social attitudes than on laws. David Brooks provides an insightful and balanced discussion of this issue: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/31/opinion/david-brooks-religious-liberty-and-equality.html?_r=4


First Amendment

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.


It is quite beyond my limited legal knowledge to tease out exactly what the Indiana law provided (it has already been amended to address the fears that it was an excuse for discrimination). Much has been written on the subject, some of it uninformative and/or inflammatory, others wise and insightful. I would like instead to outline the spirit and attitude of a proper balance between religious freedom and civil rights that makes sense to me.

Most of us assume that our freedom to believe what we choose and to express those beliefs publicly includes what some others might disagree with or consider “wrong” or obnoxious, such as racial prejudice. Freedom of speech means nothing if not the right to state what most of us consider wrong. The right to say stupid or repugnant things should never be confused with accepting or encouraging such views. Particular condemnation should be directed to those who use their freedom of speech purposely to offend rather than to defend their beliefs. The best defense against bigotry, whether racist or homophobic, is to use our freedom of speech to counter such views and to promote the virtues of respect, diversity, and tolerance of alternative beliefs (as long as they do not limit our own). In short, building broadly shared attitudes of respect toward the rights of our fellow men (and women) are necessary for the maintenance of a decent, free society.

What might this mean in practice? In my private life I should never have to associate with people I don’t like. I should not have to invite them into my home or my club. It was absolutely right that the Boy Scouts of America were allowed to exclude gays and that we were allowed verbally to attack them for such misguided behavior. They are gradually coming around to a more enlightened policy with better long run results than if forced by law to open up to members they did not want. Churches are quite rightly not forced to accept members that do not embrace their beliefs or otherwise satisfy whatever their membership requirements are.

The above examples are obvious. The difficulties begin to arise when we move outside our homes and private groups. Aside from the obvious question of why two lesbians in Texas insisted on the services of a photographer for their wedding who refused to accept their request (were they looking for a fight or the best photographer), I think any service provider should be free to choose their customers just as customers are free to choose where to shop. While mafia dons and other murderers and bad people have a right to legal representation, why should a particular objecting lawyer be required to provide it?

Should a Christian bookstore be required to sell the bible or whatever to atheists or Jews? For starters it would be quite contrary to their goals and evangelical nature to refuse to do so, but should they have the choice? Should Muslims be required to touch and serve pork or should Mormons be required to tend the cocktail and coffee bars of their employers? Once again it is hard to see why this is raised to the level of public policy. If a Mormon doesn’t want to serve alcohol (though it wasn’t a problem for the Mormon owned Marriot Hotel to do so), she doesn’t have to and shouldn’t work for a bar. For larger operations, such as restaurants with a bar, it is not that difficult for the manager to assign employees to tasks that respect their religious or ethical beliefs. The free market, profit motive would lead employers to do just that.

For many, the pace of progress against discrimination in the more public sphere of commerce and certainly in government bodies was not fast enough leading to the adoption of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion or national origin in hotels, motels, restaurants, theaters, and all other public accommodations engaged in interstate commerce; but exempted private clubs and the renting of the bed room in my basement. If you are open for business to the general public you are not allowed to discriminate on the above bases. The LGBT community has been working to add sexual orientation to the above list, something that was missing in the original Indiana RFRA law.

The recent Hobby Lobby decision of the Supreme Court (Burwell v. Hobby Lobby) concerned the mandate in Obama Care for employers to provide government specified contraceptives as part of the employee health plans. The Christian family owners objected to the mandatory inclusion in the list of what is often called the morning after pill. Raising wages sufficient to compensate employees for the cost of buying their own insurance would sacrifice the tax exception (i.e., subsidy) of employee provided health insurance. The Court ruled to allow closely held for-profit corporations to be exempt from a law its owners religiously object to if there is a less restrictive means of furthering the law’s interest. Such exemptions are allowed for churches and directly religious organizations but this was the first time that the Court has recognized a for-profit corporation’s claim of religious belief.

This whole situation has more objectionable parts than I can count. First, it is bad policy to give a tax break for employer offered health insurance. For one thing, tying heath insurance to ones employer makes it more difficult for employees to change jobs and increases the cost to them of losing a job. Second, it is outrageous that the federal government is dictating the list of contraceptives that an insurance policy must provide and that everyone must have such policies. This is before we get to the issue of which, if any, private companies should be exempt from such requirements and for what reasons. Such micro management of our lives by the government has gone way too far and makes the balancing of rights I have been discussing much more complicated and difficult. A tradition of polite accommodation of differences generally trumps efforts to spell it all out in law.

Marriage equality, i.e., extending the same right to marry enjoyed by heterosexual couples, takes away no rights from traditional couples other than perhaps to be spared the anger/horror/sadness over something someone else is doing. Get over it. Having to serve LGBT couples commercially does not imply agreeing or disagreeing with their status. Fortunately society is moving rapidly to accept the virtue of extending the institution of marriage to LGBT couples. If marriage is a good thing for loving committed couples, it should be available to all such couples. Those people and religious groups that continue to disapprove are free to as long as they do not deprive others of their freedoms and rights.

More from Rosewood

As my United, Canadair flight from Denver descended over Bakersfield toward the Meadows Field airport, my phone indicated the arrival of a text message. My brother Gary was asking, “Where are you?”  I responded: “Just landing—early”. It was 8:10 pm Thursday (March 1) with a scheduled arrival of 8:25pm. I noticed that my Brother’s text was sent at 5:15 pm, a bit after my scheduled arrival in Denver of 5:04pm. He picked me up with a smile and no further comment.

Gary delivered me to my father at the Rosewood Retirement residence. My mother’s mother had lived and died there, as had her three daughters, including my mother two and a half years earlier. https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2009/09/30/notes-from-a-visit-to-rosewood/   https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2009/12/02/my-mother%E2%80%99s-funeral/   https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2010/05/22/breakfast-at-rosewood/

My dad’s door on the second floor was locked, which was very unusual. He let me in and explained that some lady down the hall kept coming into his room if he left the door unlocked. We hugged and he said, “You need to lose some weight.”

My dad has always had a very good memory. He has always been a great game player (especially bridge) and still wins regularly at Rosewood bridge games. But his memory is fading in some areas these days (he will be 95 in May). He had slipped in his bathroom some weeks earlier and hit his forehead on the sink on the way down. He lay there pushing on the emergency call button on his wrist wondering why no one came until (after 5 – 10 minutes he said but who knows) he realized that he was pushing on his watch on the other wrist by mistake.

He recently lost his address book of many years (the old paper kind), in which over half of the names are now crossed off, and was trying to recollect the missing phone numbers and addresses. He called a woman he had attended classes with in grammar school, now living in Northern California, chatted for a while, and then carefully wrote down her address information. An hour later he could no longer find it to put in his new address books, which he couldn’t find either.

But he forgets nothing in bridge. He runs a weekly group of two tables and complained how much work and time it takes him to keep two tables filled. People are always dropping out or forgetting to come. He told me that a women’s bridge group had started inviting him to join their group when one of their regulars couldn’t make it. Eventually they asked him if he would like to become a regular member.

He remembers the batting averages of the big baseball stars from before I was born and which team won the World Series each year for the last thirty years. He is also up to the minute on the accomplishments of our local teams. He eagerly told me that the Drillers (his and my high school teams) had won the wrestling tournament over the weekend, totally forgetting that I have no interest in wrestling, baseball, basketball, or football whatsoever.

Most of dad’s life he was happy to sit quietly by while mom ran his life. This was because he had no objections to the way she ran things. When he did, we all knew it. After she died, he stepped forward and became more extroverted. The monthly Rosewood newsletter listed him as Mr. Social. We are all kind of shocked.

He complains that he is very busy all the time. It seems that it takes him much of the day going through his mail. I have not been able to convince him that he does not need to open and read everything sent to him.

Major progress has been made, I think, toward separating him from his car (which, fortunately, he seldom drives). Rosewood provides a small bus for transporting residents to various places.  But he doesn’t always find that convenient and the idea of taking a taxi is totally alien to him. It really comes down to his sense of freedom. For several years I have been planting the seed that he should save all that insurance money and give the car to his grand-daughter (Gary’s daughter Kristin) who lives here in Bakersfield. He says that he will. Coming home from lunch Friday I said: “Dad, why don’t you bit the bullet and give Kristin the keys to the car when she comes over for dinner this evening.” He snapped: “I will give up the car when I am ready and I am not ready yet.” An hour later he said, “When I move into the new apartment next week with the larger refrigerator, I want to stock it with food and I will give Kristin the car after that.”  Stay toned.

Annual Christmas Letter

Dear Friends,                                                                                                           December 8, 2010

Seasons Greetings. I hope that it has been a good year for you and those you love. It has been for me, but it remains a troubled time for western economies and for those parts of the world in which we have militarily involved ourselves and in a few in which we haven’t. Here are the highlights of my year. You can read my more extensive comments on my travels, the economy, and other things that have interested me at https://wcoats.wordpress.com/).

My first trip of the year, as usual, was to Grand Cayman Island for the quarterly board meeting of the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority (http://www.cimoney.com.ky/). My trip there for the May board meeting was my last. Although I was reappointed to the Board for a third, three-year term, I resigned during the summer effective the end of this year. I have good memories and some lasting friends from the experience (Richard Rahn, Tim Ridley, Jane Wareham, and Bill and Patricia Gilmore).

My second trip of the year was to Nairobi, Kenya for the IMF to continue my technical assistance to the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) on how to improve its formulation and implementation of monetary policy. But this year was very special because I brought my 16-year-old grandson Bryce with me. It was Easter break for him and the CBK was closed from Good Friday through Monday, which gave us a perfect opportunity to drive to the Masia Mara game reserve near the Tanzania boarder for three days and two nights. This added some memorable pictures to my collection, which you can see on my Facebook pages.

The spring also included some fun domestic trips. My long time friend Jim Roumasset and I went to Boston at the end of April for Peter Diamond’s grand retirement party at MIT. Jim and I had had several courses from Diamond at UC Berkeley in the mid 60s. Subsequently Diamond shared this year’s Nobel Prize in Economics. Our Congress is still trying to figure out if he is qualified to be on the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve. In mid May I flew out to my hometown of Bakersfield for my 50th high school reunion and to celebrate my shared birthday with my dad (what a birthday present he got when I was born).

In July Ito joined me for a trip to Robert Mundell’s annual gathering of economist at his home near Sienna, Italy. We stopped in London to visit Ito’s niece and in Florence to sightsee. We made friends with Bill Middendorf and his daughter Frances, who are both fascinating and enjoyable people.

In early September I was sitting in my gazebo reading about the collapse of Kabulbank, Afghanistan’s largest bank, when the IMF called to ask if I could join the mission leaving that evening for Kabul to help the authorities manage the Kabulbank crisis and to negotiate a new program with the IMF. It was an intense visit with a great IMF team providing little sleep. I traveled from Kabul on to Juba, Southern Sudan (via Dubai and Nairobi), which I did again after returning to Kabul a month later October – November). You can read about Kabulbank in the NYT or Washington Post. I continue to advise the Central Bank of Iraq from afar for the IMF.

I met with Southern Sudanese officials four times this year, once in Nairobi (June) and three times in Juba (July, September and November) after giving up my determination not to go there. As their independence referendum in January gets closer they are paying more and more attention to the issues we (Deloitte/USAID) are advising on (setting up a new post independence central bank and issuing and managing a new currency). On our last visit (November) we were finally meeting with the actual decision makers and we are hoping to convince them to adopt currency board rules for their new currency.

Between my September and November trips to Kabul/Juba, I also managed to attend my nephew Scott Naninga’s wedding in Santa Rosa California, and visit Daylin and Brandon and my grandkids in North Bend, WA and Vancouver, WA while on my way to the Mont Pelerin Society meetings in Sidney, Australia, all in October.

In mid November while I was in Juba my father tripped and fell and sprained his shoulder in Bakersfield and for a few days I feared that I would have to cancel another Thanksgiving dinner, but he is doing fine. My final trip of the year will be to Paris Dec 9-12 for a conference on “The International Monetary System: Old And New Debates,” to discuss the SDR as an international reserve asset.

Ito continues to draw/paint, play the piano and violin, and write while searching for the cure to cancer on the frontiers of molecular biology research at the National Cancer Institute in Fredrick Maryland, thus providing some stability and continuity to the family. So life at home is good when I am there.

Best wishes,


Breakfast at Rosewood

May 21, 2010

My dad’s and my birthdays on the 19th two days
ago are an almost distant memory. I had spoken in the afternoon to a gathering
of Rosewood residents (the retirement community my dad lives in as had my
mother and her mother) about a few of my travel adventures for the IMF
(Kyrgyzstan, Bosnia, and Iraq) and this was followed by dinner in the Rosewood
dinning room. My brother and sister and I had wanted to take dad out somewhere
for the birthday dinner but he insisted on inviting relatives to join us for
dinner at Rosewood. He had booked the 4:30 pm sitting. Dad’s 93rd
birthday was announced during the regular activities announcement period as was
the remarkable fact that his visiting son was also celebrating his own birthday
on the same day. Balloons where delivered to our table and every one sang happy
birthday to us. We were all still there through the 5:00 sitting and another
birthday announcement and a second round of “happy birthdays to you,” as we
were through the 5:30 sitting and a third round of “happy birthdays to you.”

I don’t quite understand why my father preferred this to
going out to a restaurant, but the next day at my speech to the Quest Club (a
group of Bakersfield business leaders that has met monthly for 75 years), dad
related with pride that he had been sung happy birthday to three times the day
before. Who would have guessed?

Each day during my visit dad has taken me walking, saying
quite correctly that the exercise would be good for me. This is a task normally
performed at home in Maryland by my friend Will. Walking with my dad, while
pleasant, is of limited exercise value as his pace with his walker is rather
slow and he must sit down and rest every two blocks or so.

I missed breakfast with dad at Rosewood the previous two
days due to urgent deadlines for comments on notes being prepared for officials
in Southern Sudan by my Deloitte colleagues Steve Lewarne and James Dean. Their
workday in Juba ends about 4:00 am California time and I need the Internet
connection in my hotel room not available in my dad’s apartment in Rosewood to
respond to them. But today I made it in time for the 7:30 breakfast service at
Rosewood. I sat across the table from my dad and next to Mr. Hall, who told me
again (as he had at lunch the day before) that he had been called up twice by
the Army—WWII and the Korean War.

Dad told us once again that the very nice lady in the
kitchen had asked him what he wanted to eat for his birthday. Being caught by
surprise, he told her that he would like upside down pineapple cake. Later,
after the opportunity to think about it more, he told her that he would like
carrot cake. She service both he proudly told us. I decided not to mention that
I had eaten the carrot cake with him two days before. Dad was always the one
with the impeccable memory. Now, like my mom in her final months who lost her
short term memory but remembered clearly events from decades earlier, he
remembers earlier years clearly but is beginning to forget what happened

Like me, dad has always been the quiet one, letting mom do
most of the talking. Now, as if to fill the void, he has become rather chatty.
Mom had prepared his obituary as well as her own for our use, and he informed
me that he wanted to redo it himself and then proceeded to recall all of the
things he wanted to include.

In no time we returned to the dinning room down the hall for
lunch. Mr. Hall asked where I was from and told me that he had been in the Army
twice. Dad asked me again how far I lived from the Capital. People seemed more cheerful
and up beat than when I was here the last few times just preceding and just
after my mother’s death. The staff remain as cheerful and attentive and gentle
as ever.

When I arrived for this visit I found it a bit jarring to
see on my dad’s assisted living apartment door: “Sue and Warren Coats.” For a
few days I pondered how to approach the subject of its removal with my dad.
Seeing indications that he was moving on, tossing out one unused and useless
item of mom’s then another, I worked up my courage and asked him if he thought
we should remove mom’s name from door. Sure he said, and when we returned from
our walk it was gone.


The Mother of all Snowstorms Followed by the Mother of all Snowstorms

Known here as the “Snowmageddon”

A week before Christmas we got 18
inches of snow, an all time record for the month of December. It messed up a
lot of Christmas parties. Most of the snow had melted by January 30 as I packed
for the quarterly Board meeting of the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority.
However, another storm that night canceled my Cayman flight and I arrived a day
late in Grand Cayman, missing two subcommittee meetings.

I returned home from Cayman
Thursday evening (Feb 4) to the news that we were expecting the mother of all
snowstorms starting the next day. Friday I called our neighbor and friend Susan
Fiester and told her that we were canceling our plans to meet her in New York
City Saturday to see David Mamet play “Race.”

When I got up around 3:00am
Saturday to visit the bathroom—something older people do—I noticed that the
electricity was off and it was getting chilly in the house. By the time the
snow stopped falling Saturday evening 28 inches had fallen in our area (32
inches were recorded at Dulles Airport across the Potomac in Virginia). These
occasional power outages generally don’t last more than a few hours, but by
Saturday evening power had not been restored and the temperature in the house
continued to fall.

Certain that the power would come
on “any time soon,” we nonetheless buttoned up the beach room, lit a fire in
its fireplace, and moved in. For dinner Ito heated up in the fireplace the beef
chilly he had prepared the day before. We dug out thermal underwear and dragged
down two big feather comforters, played a game of chess, and spent the night on
the sofa and the fold out bed feeding logs to the fire. With no regular
telephone/internet access to the outside world, my Blackberry became a
psychological and practical lifeline. Our neighborhood association President
and other neighbors kept us all up to date on any and all developments (or lack
there of). I husbanded my Blackberry’s battery carefully—“text or email only
please.” One bit of news was that some trees had fallen across our street
further down the hill.

With daybreak we were still without
power and our street, which is the access to and from the outside world for our
community of 64 homes, had not yet been plowed. Susan called from New York,
which had received no snow, and asked if Ito could walk up to her house to
check if her generator had turned on properly and invited us to move in with
her if we still didn’t have power when she returned that evening. On Ito’s way
back from Susan’s, our next-door neighbor Martin grabbed him to join a few
chainsaw-armed neighbors heading down the hill to remove the fallen trees from
the road so that it could be plowed.

As the sun set and we lit the
candles we decided to stick it out another night, certain that the power would
be restored soon. Ito made lentil soap over the fireplace fire. This campfire
routine in our family room was less “special” the second time around, but the
soup tasted good. I read Niall Ferguson’s “The Ascent of Money,” a very
disappointing book, by candlelight and thought of Abraham Lincoln. By morning
(Monday) the huge stack of firewood in the garage that I had expected to last
all winter was down to a dozen logs and we moved to Susan’s. Not only was her
home warm, a very welcomed change for us, but it was also a beautiful sunny
day. The neighborhood association hired someone to plow our streets as the
county plows had given up when they encountered the fallen trees the day
before, so at last we were able to get out if we needed to. We decided to have
dinner in Potomac Village at Renato’s. Our friend Ken walked over from his
cousin’s house near by and joined us. The four of us enjoyed a wonderful
dinner, two bottle of wine, and several hours of Internet access via Starbuck’s
wifi next door until the waiter politely informed us that they were closing.

Tuesday we went grocery shopping to
stock up for the next storm expected to start that evening and dump another
8-12 inches on us. Many of the shelves in Safeway were almost bare. Fearing
they might not get to the remaining items first, some people behaved rudely. It
was quite shocking really. Those waiting in the long checkout lines could
afford to be and were generally more relaxed and philosophical about the
situation. While there we started getting emails from neighbors that their
power had been restored. Hallelujah. We returned home and set the thermostat at
76 degrees.

The storm has had interesting
consequences for our neighborhood. Its members are decent people whose lives
generally revolve around work activities and circles outside our neighborhood.
The cell phone communications brought us closer together, foreshadowing an even
nicer Christmas/Hanukkah/Ramadan/Kwanzaa neighborhood association party next
year. Susan advertised to everyone in the neighborhood via email that she had a
generator and anyone was welcome to stop by and warm up and charge their cell
phones. At the other end of the spectrum, a neighbor at the far end of the main
street who is home alone during these storms had the following conversation
with her neighbor when they walked their dog past her as she shoveled the snow
off her driveway. “You look cold” they said. “I am cold, very cold,” she said,
“I have no heat in the house, not even a fireplace.” “Oh,… we have a generator
and are nice and warm.” Period! End of conversation!! Our friend at the far end
of the street understands that she did not pay twenty to thirty thousand
dollars for a generator while her neighbor did. She understands that our
choices do and need to have consequences. But the inhumanity of her neighbors’
words and attitude shocked her. I know of no magic wisdom or solution for this
or hundreds of similar situations. It is quite proper that they are left to the
individual encounters of our and other neighborhoods, however. They find their
resolutions, if at all, in cultural and moral training and understanding
without which our neighborhoods and communities will be very unpleasant places.

The next storm started slowly on
schedule Tuesday evening and continued all day Wednesday (today) dumping
another 10 inches on us but this time with gusting winds. But the snow is
almost over now and I am hoping that no more trees will fall on power lines, or
roads, or my roof, which is now holding up three feet of snow. So perhaps it is
over. If you never hear from me I again I was wrong.

My mother’s funeral

 My mom died Sunday November 22 and I returned to Bakersfield
the next day to help make funeral arrangements and to keep my dad company. My
mom’s real life, the one she loved, had ended some months earlier, so the end
of this unwanted phase was as big a relief to us as to her.

There are advantages and disadvantages to living on opposite
coasts from the rest of my family (my parents, brother, sister, and children).
My mother’s decline and death and the tasks we all face when members of our
families die was an occasion that brought us all closer together emotionally as
well as occasionally physically. My brother, who is the only one of my siblings
who lives in Bakersfield, had been the most disconnected from the family and
became the rock we all relied upon. My sister and I increased our phone
conversations (I hate the phone and she hates email). We are closer and our
relationships stronger going forward.

My dad and I sat together for many hours each day and ate
many meals together at Rosewood, the retirement facility in which he lives and
my mother had died. We reviewed documents, spoke to the mortuary and to his
church, and contacted insurance companies, banks, pension administrators, the
fund administrator, etc all between incoming and outgoing calls from and to
friends of my parents’. My father would occasionally get frustrated with
automated answering systems (turning those calls over to me), but generally
every place we dealt with was well prepared to assist us through the required
steps at the time of a death.

My mother is—was—a planner and she had spared us any doubts
about how she wanted her funeral and every thing about it conducted. This was
indeed much appreciated by us. Mom had even prepared her own and my dad’s
obituaries as much to insure that we had the relevant facts at hand as to
insure it said what she wanted said. Some revisions were naturally necessary.
For example, being six years younger than my dad, mom assumed that he would die
first. “Warren preceded her by (?) years,” was changed to “She is survived by
her husband Warren,…”

One evening, sitting next to each other, dad in his usual
rocker and I in my mother’s, dad suddenly launched into a renaissance of his
own life. He told me of a life of greater trials and disappointments than my
mom’s. But he is a quiet and loving man, who did not mind at all living in mom’s
shadow. With better health as a youth he would have lived a very different
life. He never complained but now he wanted me to know of some of his bad luck
and promise unfulfilled. This will be another story at another time.

Mom’s funeral was lovely. We celebrated her life and
furthered the emotional adjustments required of us. We were thankful that her
strong wish to die at this point had been granted. But there were moments,
often provoked by some little act of tidying up, that forced our hearts to
focus on what we had all lost. One such was removing the colorful sign on mom
and dad’s apartment door that read: “Happy Anniversary – Sue & Warren
Coats, 68 years and still sweethearts!!” My struggle to remain composed while
removing that sign was matched only by my effort to smile when I replied to a
nice old lady waiting next to me for the elevator in Rosewood who asked
(recognizing me—sort of—from an earlier visit): “Do you live here or are you
just visiting.”

My Mom

My mom passed away around 6:30 Sunday morning November 22,
2009. This came several months after she happily said her good byes and
expected and hoped to leave us after what she called a wonderful life. It
deserves to be called a wonderful life, but it was not always an easy one.

Her father, William Penn (the great, great grandson of the
founder of Pennsylvania), died when she was two. Her mother remarried an older
man when she was three and half year old and within the year he had a stroke
after which they all moved to Bakersfield (where I was born) for his health. He
was unable to work and was abusive and my grandmother divorced him. The Great
Depression struck soon after they moved to Bakersfield, and my grandmother fed
the household of my mother, two older sisters, a brother, and my grand mother’s
mother, by sewing cloths and eventually teaching sewing for the Singer Company.
At 14 my mother managed the household’s meager budget, cleaned, and cooked for
the household (her two older sisters were in a government sanitarium for the
undernourished—not because of my mother’s cooking I hope—her mother was working
full time to pay for the food, her grandmother didn’t do anything useful, and
brothers didn’t cook in those days).

My mom grew up tough in many ways and vulnerable in others.
She had strong opinions about what was good and right but she was never
dogmatic. She was always open to new ideas and loved learning as much as she
loved teaching. If she encountered facts that challenged her opinions, she
reconsidered her views. After my brother, sister and I had left home for
college my mom finished her high school equivalency exam and started classes at
the local Jr. College (which I also had attended for two years before going to
U.C. Berkeley). She loved it so much that she kept going and graduated with a
teaching degree.

Teaching became mom’s passion. She loved helping people and
especially kids and especially those who struggled. She could and would squash
anyone who hurt a kid (or anyone else) in any way and for any reason. Though
she hated what modern reading and teaching methods were doing to move
California from #1 in the nation (in reading scores) to #50, she recoiled from
hate mongering and those who spread hate. She gladly took the worse discipline
problems in school because she never tolerated or had discipline problems in
her classes. She believed that kids wanted to succeed and responded to
realistic hope that they could. Within days she had the worst of them working
with her to make the class room a fun and exciting learning experience.

From her teaching experiences with remedial readers, she
developed a reading technique that produced dramatic results with even the most
deficient readers. “Bungy Jumping Into Reading” LLC offers her technique, which
uses word games as the core of the approach that disarms non readers from their
fears of failure and draws them into a competitive challenge that is fun (and

Yes, she did have a wonderful life. She and her husband of
68 years, my father, had many friends, enjoyed life, and spread goodness and
light wherever they went. Mom was a fighter; she fought with love. I, and many
others, will miss her.