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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tiken Jah Fakoly et Alpha Blondy Reconcile for the good of their country, Cote d'Ivoire

Les 50 de la Côte d'Ivoire : Tiken Jah Fakoly et Alpha Blondy, la réconciliation en chantant

23/11/2011 à 12h:39 Par Jeune Afrique
Alpha Blondy (g) et Tiken Jah Fakoly (D) se sont réconciliés. Alpha Blondy (g) et Tiken Jah Fakoly (D) se sont réconciliés. © AFP
Alpha Blondy et Tiken Jah Fakoly, les frères ennemis du reggae ivoirien, ont fait la paix. Le président Ouattara leur a donné pour mission de montrer l’exemple.
L’un est le père du reggae ivoirien ; l’autre, celui qui lui a donné un nouveau souffle. Le premier a soutenu Laurent Gbagbo avant de s’en détourner pendant la crise postélectorale, tandis que le second s’est exilé au Mali voisin peu après sa prise de pouvoir. Mais ce sont surtout leurs divergences personnelles qui opposaient les deux icônes du reggae ivoirien, Alpha Blondy (58 ans, à g.) et Tiken Jah Fakoly (43 ans). « Des tentatives de réconciliation, on en a fait plusieurs, témoigne un ami commun. Chaque fois ça échouait, sans qu’on sache pourquoi. »
C’est Alassane Ouattara en personne qui a mis un terme aux dissensions entre le « Marley ivoirien » et l’« enfant de Gbéléban ». Les rencontrant l’un après l’autre en mai à Paris, le chef de l’État leur a demandé de travailler ensemble à la réconciliation des Ivoiriens. Comment dire non au président ? Ni une ni deux, les protagonistes de la guéguerre du reggae s’affichent tout sourire devant les photographes et sont désormais à tu et à toi.
Pour sceller leur nouvelle amitié, ils préparent même ensemble une caravane de la paix et de la réconciliation pour la fin de l’année. À défaut de se rencontrer – Alpha Blondy vit plus à Paris qu’à Abidjan, Tiken Jah Fakoly, à Bamako –, ils se parlent régulièrement pour faire le point sur l’organisation et tentent, chacun de leur côté, de rallier les artistes pro-Gbagbo exilés dans la sous-région et en Europe. D’abord dépités par la fin de la rivalité, les fans de chaque camp ont fini par s’en réjouir : ils pourront, pour la première fois, voir les deux idoles sur la même scène.
Tous droits de reproduction et de représentation

Les 50 de la Côte d'Ivoire : Tiken Jah Fakoly et Alpha Blondy, la réconciliation en chantant | - le premier site d'information et d'actualité sur l'Afrique

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Homework and Jacuzzis as Dorms Move to McMansions in California -

The flip side of the foreclosure crisis in California. 

Animal McMansion: Students Trade Dorm for Suburban Luxury

MERCED, Calif. — Heather Alarab, a junior at the University of California, Merced, and Jill Foster, a freshman, know that their sudden popularity has little to do with their sparkling personalities, intelligence or athletic prowess.

"Hey, what are you doing?" throngs of friends perpetually text. "Hot tub today?"

While students at other colleges cram into shoebox-size dorm rooms, Ms. Alarab, a management major, and Ms. Foster, who is studying applied math, come home from midterms to chill out under the stars in a curvaceous swimming pool and an adjoining Jacuzzi behind the rapidly depreciating McMansion that they have rented for a song.

Here in Merced, a city in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley and one of the country's hardest hit by home foreclosures, the downturn in the real estate market has presented an unusual housing opportunity for thousands of college students. Facing a shortage of dorm space, they are moving into hundreds of luxurious homes in overbuilt planned communities.

Forget the off-to-college checklist of yesteryear (bedside lamp, laundry bag, under-the-bed storage trays). This is "Animal House" 2011.

Double-height Great Room? Check.

Five bedrooms? Check.

Chandeliers? Check.

Then there are the three-car garages, wall-to-wall carpeting, whirlpool baths, granite kitchen countertops, walk-in closets and inviting gas fireplaces.

"I mean, I have it all!" said Patricia Dugan, a senior majoring in management, who was reading Dario Fo's "Accidental Death of an Anarchist" in her light-filled living room while soaking a silk caftan in one of two master bathroom sinks.

The finances of subdivision life are compelling: the university estimates yearly on-campus room and board at $13,720 a year, compared with roughly $7,000 off-campus. Sprawl rats sharing a McMansion — with each getting a bedroom and often a private bath — pay $200 to $350 a month each, depending on the amenities.

Gurbir Dhillon, a senior majoring in molecular cell biology, pays $70 more than his four housemates each month for the privilege of having what they enviously call "the penthouse suite" — a princely boudoir with a whirlpool tub worthy of Caesars Palace and a huge walk-in closet, which Mr. Dhillon has filled with baseball caps and T-shirts.

The pool table in the young men's Great Room is the site of raucous games and taco dinners. "You definitely appreciate it when you visit your friends at other schools and they say, 'O.K., sleep on the floor,' " Mr. Dhillon said.

A confluence of factors led to the unlikely presence of students in subdivisions, where the collegiate promise of sleeping in on a Saturday morning may be rudely interrupted by neighborhood children selling Girl Scout cookies door to door.

This city of 79,000 is ranked third nationally in metropolitan-area home foreclosures, behind Las Vegas and Vallejo, Calif., said Daren Blomquist, a spokesman for RealtyTrac, a company based in Irvine, Calif., that tracks housing sales. The speculative fever that gripped the region and drew waves of outside investors to this predominantly agricultural area was fueled in part by the promise of the university itself, which opened in 2005 as the first new University of California campus in 40 years.

The crash crashed harder here. "Builders were coming into the area by the bulkload," said Loren M. Gonella, who owns a real estate company here. "It was, 'Holy moly, let's get on this gravy train.' "

But visions of an instant Berkeley materializing in the cow pastures were premature. The stylishly designed university planned for a gradual expansion, adding 600 new students a year. That has meant phased dorm construction, which is financed with tax-exempt bonds repaid by student revenue. There is room for only 1,600 students in the campus dorms, but 5,200 are enrolled.

With hundreds of homes standing empty, many of them likely foreclosures, students willing to share houses have been "a blessing," said Ellie Wooten, a former mayor of Merced and a real estate broker. Five students paying $200 a month each trump families who cannot afford more than $800 a month.

The university's free transit system, Cat Tracks, stops at student-heavy subdivisions. There are also limitless creative possibilities, with décor ranging from a Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority bedroom motif to an archetypal male nightstand overflowing with empty bags of Flamin' Hot Cheetos.

Not all neighbors are amused.

"Everybody on this street is underwater and can't see any relief," said John Angus, an out-of-work English teacher who paid $532,000 for a house that is now worth $221,000. "This was supposed to be an edge-of-town, Desperate Housewifey community," he said. "These students are the reverse."

Mr. Angus pays $3,000 a month, while student neighbors pay one-tenth of that. "I think they're the luckiest students I've ever come across," he said somewhat bitterly.

Nevertheless, students quickly learn that the cul-de-sac life is not risk-free. Lance Eber, the crime analyst for the Merced Police Department, said vacant houses were frequent targets of theft, most recently of copper wiring. They also attract squatters, who sometimes encamp beneath covered patios, he said.

Ms. Wooten related a cautionary tale about four students living in a house foreclosed by a bank who continued to send rent checks to an owner who had skipped town. When the bank gave them two weeks' notice to move out, the students went into Erin Brockovich mode and researched their legal rights. "It bought them at least three months," Ms. Wooten said. "By golly, they're still there."

She added, "There are some odd scenarios going on around here."

They include the case of absentee landlord parents like Rhonda Castillo and her husband, who bought a house for their son, Jason, when times were flush in 2005. Jason was in the first class at the Merced campus.

The untimely investment was ultimately less important than "an investment in our son," Mrs. Castillo said. "It gave him a preview of real life: buying groceries, preparing food, doing the laundry and taking care of the yard." (He is now in medical school, and four female students rent the house.)

Indeed, managing a four- or five-bedroom house — not to mention all the cars — can be tricky business for young people.

Sitting in her kitchen, a planet of granite, Katilyn McIntire, a human biology major, explained how she and her four roommates rotated cars — one parks on the street, two park in the garage and two in the driveway. Whoever is getting up for an 8 a.m. class parks last. After an unsuccessful attempt at tending the yard with a hand mower, they now pay $50 a month to a gardener.

The student equivalent of "keeping up with the Joneses" has emerged, too.

Jaron Brandon, a sophomore and a senator in the student government, does his homework in the Jacuzzi in his six-bedroom house, on a waterproof countertop that he rigged over the tub.

Seeking housemates, he posted a beguiling ad on Craigslist: "For a small amount more than a nameless house in the suburbs," it read, "you could be living in a mansion right by school."

Monday, November 7, 2011

What Can the DNA of Ashkenazi Jews Tell Us About Living Longer? -- New York Magazine

What Do a Bunch of Old Jews Know About Living Forever?

(Photo: Christopher Lane)

"Don't be sad," says Finklestein on his deathbed. "I've had 80 good years."
"But you're 98!" says his wife.
"I know."

Except for the occasional doctor's appointment or bad cold, Irving Kahn hasn't skipped a day of work in more years than he can remember. And he can remember plenty of them: He's 105.

That record is vexing to his youngest son, Thomas Graham Kahn, who though 69 and president of Kahn Brothers, their brokerage and money-management firm, is still called Tommy. (Irving is chairman.) How can he take a vacation if his father won't?

Instead, Tommy threatens to dock his dad for his short workday, which begins around ten and ends by three and often includes a nice bowl of soup. "It's not like we have so many employees we can afford to have him shluf off," Tommy says.

Tommy runs the business, which has about $700 million under management. But even though Irving, with his very short stature and very large glasses, looks a bit like a horned owl peering up from his desk—a desk that features both a computer and grip bars—he is no figurehead. His is still the corner office, 22 floors above Madison Avenue. (During the blackout of 2003, he walked down.) He gives or withholds the papal blessing on investment policy and reviews every transaction undertaken by the firm's youngsters on behalf of clients.

The world's oldest stockbroker, he first went to work on Wall Street in 1928. "This was before the Depression," he says, then specifies which depression, as if I might confuse it with the one in the 1890s. Both are real to him; through a chain of memory leading back to his grandparents, Eastern European Jews who settled on the Lower East Side shortly before that earlier upheaval, he can almost touch the Civil War.

More directly, he can touch the technological revolutions that followed. He describes his father's good fortune in getting into the lighting-fixture business in the years after "Mr. Edison opened his downtown office"—the one that brought electric power to Manhattan in 1882. He remembers with perfect clarity building a crystal radio in his bedroom around 1920 and amazing his mother, who thought music came only from Victrolas, with the music he "caught for free."

When you're 53, as I am, and believe yourself to be on the wrong side of life's unknowable midpoint, a conversation with someone who will soon be twice your age, and who furthermore has retained all his marbles, can be disorienting. For one thing, it has the effect of collapsing a century into a pancake. Czar Nicholas II and Barack Obama, gaslight and computer glow, grandmothers and grandchildren: All are contemporaries, all in sharp focus.

The indiscriminate urgency of memory is disorienting for Irving as well. "I'd rather not know who I was and who I knew and what I did," he says. "It uses up space I need for today."

By "today," incredibly, he also means the future. All conversations with Irving eventually wobble back to his favorite ruts, such as how new technology might affect the viability of companies he follows. "I don't worry about dying," he says, assuming it will happen in his sleep. Instead he worries about staying mentally agile, which is why he reads three newspapers daily and watches all the C-Spans. "I know people collect postage stamps, but that's just one thing. It's about having multiple interests."

He does not say multiple attachments; his own upbringing—his mother ran a shirtwaist business out of the home—suggested the value of independence and keeping an eye on the horizon. Newness served his family well: "A new country, a new language, a new public school, a new college." At his home a mile up Madison—until he was 102 he took the bus—he has, he says proudly, "thousands of books, not one fiction. Mostly I'm interested in what's on the edges: solar energy, sending vehicles beyond the moon."

His belief in a personal future that will repay this curiosity—a future I can hardly imagine for myself without worries of illness and decrepitude—is what's most disorienting about Irving Kahn. You'd think that as he got older, then even older, and then bizarrely old, he'd have had ever more opportunities to despair. And, true, his eyesight and "earsight" aren't what they were. He can't walk much on his own anymore. He despises these limitations but ignores or finds ways to outwit them. Loss as well. His wife's death, in 1996, was a huge blow, Tommy reports, but Irving "put his foot down a little more on the pedal, if that was possible." When macular degeneration recently made reading difficult, he learned to enlarge the font on what he calls his Gimble.

It helps that he is wealthy enough to have full-time attendants. Also, perhaps, that he has always been a "low liver," without flamboyant tastes, as his brown, pointy-collared shirt and brown patterned tie attest. He goes to bed at eight, gets up at seven, takes vitamins because his attendants tell him to. (He drew the line at Lipitor, though, when a doctor suggested it a few years back.) He wastes few gestures; as we speak, his hands remain elegantly folded on his desk.

Still, a man who at 105—he'll be 106 on December 19—has never had a life-threatening disease, who takes no cholesterol or blood-pressure medications and can give himself a clean shave each morning (not to mention a "serious sponge bath with vigorous rubbing all around"), invites certain questions. Is there something about his habits that predisposed a long and healthy life? (He smoked for years.) Is there something about his attitude? (He thinks maybe.) Is there something about his genes? (He thinks not.) And here he cuts me off. He's not interested in his longevity.

But scientists are. A boom in centenarians is just around the demographic bend; the National Institute on Aging predicts that their number will grow from the 37,000 counted in 1990 to as many as 4.2 million by 2050. Pharmaceutical companies and the National Institutes of Health are throwing money into longevity research. Major medical centers have built programs to satisfy the demand for data and, eventually, drugs. Irving himself agreed to have his blood taken and answer questions for the granddaddy of these studies, the Longevity Genes Project at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, which seeks to determine whether people who live healthily into their tenth or eleventh decade have something in common—and if so, whether it can be made available to everyone else.

What have the researchers learned? Not what Irving wanted to know, which was only whether those who live longer have higher earning power. For the rest, like how he got involved in the Einstein study, he says, "You'll have to ask my sister."

His older sister.

"Oy," says Sophie.
"Oy vey," says Esther.
"Oy veyizmir," says Sadie.
"I thought we weren't going to talk about our children," says Mildred.

Between 1901 and 1910, Saul and Mamie Kahn—the electric-fixture salesman and his clever wife—had four children: two girls (Helen and Leonore), then two boys (Irving and Peter). By 2001, when Helen turned 100, they were thought to be the oldest quartet of siblings in the world. Helen's sassy tongue and taste for Budweiser made her a minor celebrity on old-age websites; four years later, upon turning 100 himself, Irving rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange.

But the family's DNA may be even more celebrated. All four have participated in Einstein's longevity research, begun by Dr. Nir Barzilai in 1998. For these studies, Barzilai has assembled a cohort of some 540 people over the age of 95 who, like the Kahns, reached that milestone having never experienced the so-called big four: cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and cognitive decline. He theorized that these "SuperAgers," as he calls them, must have something that protects them from all four conditions. Otherwise, when they didn't have a heart attack, say, at 78, they'd have succumbed quickly to the next thing on their body's inscrutable list. So instead of looking, as most genetic studies do, for pieces of DNA that correlate with the likelihood of getting diseases, Barzilai looked for the opposite: genes that correlate with the likelihood of not getting them—and thus with longevity.

The top correlate for longevity is one that requires no blood test to discover: having a SuperAger in your family already. (Though Mamie died at 64, Saul lived to 88, exceptionally long for a man born in 1876.) But the results at the DNA level are nearly as strong. Barzilai has so far identified, or corroborated, at least seven associative markers. The most significant is the Cholesterol Ester Transfer Protein gene, or CETP, which in one unusual form correlates with slower memory decline, lower risk for dementia, and strongly increased protection against heart disease. (Among other things, it increases the amount and size of "good" cholesterol.) Only about 9 percent of control subjects have two copies (one from each parent) of the protective form of CETP, while 24 percent of the centenarians do, including all four Kahn siblings.

Other markers found more frequently among the SuperAgers include a variant of the APOE gene that protects against atherosclerosis and Alzheimer's, a variant of the FOXO3A gene that protects against tumor formation and leukemia, and a variant of the APOC3 gene that protects against cardiovascular disease and diabetes. (This variant alone has been associated with an average life extension of four years.) Having long telomeres—regions at the ends of chromosomes that shorten as you age—is another kind of marker, acting as an instant-read longevity thermometer. There's evidence, as well, that small stature among the SuperAgers (Irving is now about five foot two) may reflect the influence of a protective factor seen throughout nature; ponies live longer than horses.

Suggestive though they are, these findings so far lack the real-world application that can turn even the most questionable longevity fads, like Resveratrol, into worldwide sensations. After all, as Tommy Kahn puts it, would you really want to know if you have a predisposition for your penis falling off unless there were "some kind of splint" you could get to repair it? (Tommy, a widower, recently remarried.)

But the Einstein project is fascinating for a major reason beyond its science: Its main test group consists entirely of Ashkenazim—that is, Jews who descend, as more than 80 percent of American Jews do, from communities in the Pale of Settlement of Eastern Europe. In longevity news, the spotlight frequently passes from one group to another: Georgian yogurt eaters, Japanese pensioners, the Pennsylvania Dutch. But 540 Jews in a New York–based study of extreme old age is too delicious. The mind cramps with the possibility of jokes.

Barzilai acknowledges as much, telling me first off that most of the original intakes were done by a Gentile nurse named William Greiner. After Greiner visited the participants in their homes, interviewing them and taking their blood, Barzilai would get calls saying that the young man was very nice, but why didn't he touch the cake they'd prepared?

Mostly gray at 56, Barzilai, Israeli by birth, is a puffball of excitability: twinkling, gesturing, capable of persuading anyone to do anything. Well, almost anyone. His mother, a Holocaust survivor born in what is now Ukraine, refused to let him test her blood. "For her, the genetic studies had already been done," Barzilai recalls. "And she didn't enjoy it the first time."

He laughs, but the twinning of darkness and lightness in his life's work is no accident. Longevity is the flip side of mortality, as Jews who survived the twentieth century do not need reminding. When a centenarian says she's Ashkenazic, he takes her word for it: "Do you think there would be impostors?" And when he goes to synagogues to solicit volunteers, he makes this argument: "Yes, we had a miserable history, okay, let's get over that, we ended up not in such a bad place. And if we're able to give back, to find genes associated with longevity, it's really something we have to do. I'm not choosing Ashkenazim because of only a technical point, but also tikkun olam"—the rabbinic injunction to repair the world.

As it turns out, the miserable history is inseparable from the technical point. Barzilai centered his studies on Ashkenazim not because they live longer or produce more centenarians than other ethnic groups. They don't. It's that their unusual development as a homogeneous community makes them easier to study at the level of DNA. Genetic research done by Barzilai's Einstein colleague Gil Atzmon suggests that Ashkenazim branched off from other Jews around the time of the destruction of the First Temple, 2,500 years ago. They flourished during the Roman Empire but then went through a "severe bottleneck" as they dispersed, reducing a population of several million to just 400 families who left Northern Italy around the year 1000 for Central and eventually Eastern Europe. Though their numbers increased dramatically once there, to some 18 million before the Holocaust, studies suggest that 40 percent of today's Ashkenazim descend from just four Jewish mothers. How proud those mothers would be to know that the reason their mishpocheh has remained far more genetically alike than a random population—Barzilai says by a factor of at least 30—is that until recently their sons almost never married outside the clan.

That likeness means that small genetic differences—as small as one "letter" of DNA code—are more easily spotted on Ashkenazi genes than on those of, say, Presbyterians. Icelanders are good, too: They are all descendants, Barzilai says, of five Viking men and four Irish women. But they are a tiny population, with proportionately fewer centenarians, and aren't so easy to find in New York. Ashkenazim are plentiful. And because they are also fairly similar in their educational and economic status, some of the variables that can muddy the picture are already controlled.

Others are controlled more explicitly. An Einstein study published in August asked whether the SuperAgers, over the course of their lives, had better health habits than the general population.

The answer was no; their habits were, if anything, worse. They smoked as much or more than others and were no better about diet or exercise. Tommy Kahn described his father's lifelong eating habits as "lamb chops one night, steak the next." Exercise was sporadic and mild. "Healthy living can get you past 80," says Barzilai, "but not to 100." Something else is at play. When asked what they themselves thought it might be, the participants offered such explanations as genes, luck, and family history. God, says Barzilai, finished last.

Read the Rest of the article here:

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Did You Hear The One About The Con Man, The Bank And The Five Corrupt Chinese Antique Appraisers?

Did You Hear The One About The Con Man, The Bank And The Five Corrupt Chinese Antique Appraisers?

Jade Burrial Suit

Image: Wikimedia Commons

I don't know, it looks real to me.

Stop me if you've heard about this one. It's a great story that involves a ceremonial suit of jade tiles used for burials (aka jade burial suit, jade casket, jade case).

As you can see in the photo, it looks like a suit of ancient armor.

These ancient artifacts are extremely rare, and entire suits are generally not available.

Individual jade tiles can be purchased, but that's about it.

Therefore, you'd expect a certified antique suit would be worth a hell of a lot of money.

Indeed, and that's exactly what Xie Genrong thought.

This guy goes out on the market and buys a bunch of these jade tiles and then has two burial suits constructed. Now he's got something of value, right?

Not just yet.

He can't just pass these things off as real to a buyer.

No art collector would be stupid enough to buy one of these things without getting a proper appraisal, and obviously these items will not stand up to a great deal of scrutiny.

What's a grifter to do? Well, if you can't cheat a hapless buyer, best to use your imagination. And Xie Genrong was a creative guy. His solution? Use the two jade burial suits as collateral for a big ass bank loan. Chances are that your average banker doesn't know a thing about antiques, right?

But wait a second. Bankers aren't that stupid, and anyway, aren't there rules about appraising assets? Yes, and that was a potential problem. However, remember that Xie Genrong was a resourceful dude; he knew that additional assistance was required.

Enter Niu Fuzhong, the middleman. He helped Xie Genrong put together an impressive appraisal team of five experts, including academics from China's Palace Museum. If these guys would sign off on the value of the jade burial suits, then Xie Genrong would be home free.

And of course the experts did sign off on the authenticity of the antiques. Xie got his loan, and everyone down the line was paid off. Problem is that someone found out about all this, and now everyone has a bit of legal trouble to deal with.

This is entertaining enough, but the story gets even better. Now that punishments are in the offing for these folks, the finger-pointing has started. This is hilarious.

Just a couple of my favorite excuses. As you can imagine, the academic experts are trying to place the blame on each other, and unfortunately one of the panel has died. Since he cannot defend himself, he is drawing a lot of the fire. Blame the dead guy — that's a classic.

Additionally, one of the experts has claimed that the burial suits were inside a glass case when the experts "examined" them (and received envelopes of cash for their trouble). Apparently looking at an antique through a glass case is sufficient to render an opinion worth billions of RMB. No matter. They already had a previous assessment to fall back on, so out of respect for that appraiser, they just acted like a rubber stamp. I don't know what you think, but I'm not sure that admitting these things is an effective defense strategy.

However, none of these excuses can touch my favorite one in terms of sheer audacity. One of the experts claims immunity from liability because of academic freedom! Whether the appraisal was accurate or a complete mess is irrelevant, you see. These were members of the academy involved in a scholarly pursuit.

I love this story for so many reasons. The entrepreneurial spirit of Xie Genrong, the fools at the China Construction Bank for giving him such a bullshit loan (perhaps as much as 700 million RMB!!!), the creepy henchmanlike work performed by Niu Fuzhong, and the utterly corrupt academic experts that made the whole thing possible.

Simply awesome. Someone should snatch up the movie rights immediately. I'm thinking one of those ensemble casts with George Clooney.

For more details:

男子自制古董骗贷10亿 原故宫副院长等估价24亿 (法制晚报)
Experts on the Take: Dissecting a Chinese Penchant for Fraud in High Places (Economic Observer)


Read more posts on China Hearsay »

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The #1 Most Effective Habit

The #1 Most Effective Habit

[This was a guest post I did over the weekend at TechCrunch].

There was a girl at the party, Ona, who then started telling me how she met her current boyfriend. She just simply told him she liked him. I was insanely jealous right then of this guy. Here was this beautiful, hysterically funny girl who told a guy she liked him and now he was having regular sex with her.

That doesn't happen, right? It never happened to me. I sat there nodding, not being able to say anything but thinking, what if she said, "I like you" to me right then. I would've been happy. Instead, I got depressed and went to sit on the stairs.

There was another girl there. She was crying.I tried to comfort her by telling her I was an artist. I then asked her why she was crying. Apparently the party was actually her birthday party! I had no idea. I didn't even know who she was. And she was crying because her boyfriend didn't show up.

Within a week we were living together. Ultimately it didn't work out and I did my usual passive thing, which was to move to another city (in this case, NYC), to get out of the relationship.

In Stephen Covey's Book, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" his first habit is "Be Proactive." I haven't read the book. I saw the list on Wikipedia. I WILL NOT buy the book because at this moment it's the #1 book on Amazon under Motivation on the Kindle and I am #2. How can he be #1 after 22 years? Beating the new, fresh, me! Stephen Covey, I'm coming after you!

But it makes me think – unfortunately he's dead on. In fact, Being Proactive might be the only effective habit. I read the other six and they all seemed to be corollaries of the  first one.

-          When I started my first company, Reset, I showed my brother-in-law the Internet so he could start learning design for it. And then I hired Reset from my perch at HBO to do HBO's website. I was insanely proactive in getting the company off of the ground. When I wanted to sell the company I didn't wait for buyers. I proactively went after everyone who was buying companies in the space. And screw you, Razorfish, for ignoring me.

(Reset's first version of the HBO website)

-          When I was trading for hedge funds I sent out about 20 emails every weekend to new potential investors. Altogether I probably sent out over 1000 emails. Most of them ignored me. Over the course of a year about 14 allocated money for me to trade.

-          When I started Stockpickr, I spec-ed out the site, had India mock up a few pages, and showed the  CEO of what I was working on. I had spent less than $1000 on it at that point. He wanted to be  involved and eventually it grew into a good business. If I had just said to him, "let's do a social media business in Finance", it would not have worked. I would've become a consultant rather than an entrepreneur. You have to DO things to succeed. Nobody is just going to give you money. This is why being as proactive as possible is important.

-          Ona was proactive in meeting her boyfriend. He was never going to ask her out. So she told him she liked him and they started going out. She was proactive.

-          Before I met Claudia, I was sending out probably 50 messages a day on dating services. That's the sheer quantity I had to do in order to meet someone I liked and it worked. And I screwed it up so badly, as I've written before. She wrote to me that she was from Buenos Aires and I said, "oh, I've always wanted to go to Brazil." And she wrote back, "uhh, Buenos Aires is in Argentina!" Ugh, what an idiot I am!  I can't believe she agreed to go on a date with me after that.  But if I hadn't been sending out 50 messages a day I never would've met her. To top it off, I really was hoping Buenos Aires was in Brazil. I would save at least four hours on any plane rides. Oh well.

(Claudia looking very suspicious, minutes after we were married)

-          Whenever I want to guest post in another blog, I write the post first, and then I send it to them, and I ask them if they want to guest post it. It almost always works. Very few times has someone reached out to me and said, "can you write for us." It's almost always me proactively chasing it.

Here's the proactive plan:


-          Proactively list what you want (a spouse, a new job, a new business, a new opportunity)

-          List what the next step is (sign up for dating services, take a yoga class, look at classifieds, spec out your business, decide how you will build your product, contact the people who will build it and get a price from them, ask people if you can work for them, etc.) Make sure the next step is very doable. So doable that you can (and will) do it TODAY.

(I do all my lists on waiter's pads. They are cheap and prevent extended prose).


-          Quickly determine what doesn't work. For instance, if I went to 100 bars trying to meet women, none of them would work. Similarly, when I set up I set up 10 other websites at the same time. None of them got any traction and I stuck with the one that did.


-          If you want a new job, proactively go out and get another one. Preferably freelance : think about what you do best, and then do it for three paying customers. Contact 30 customers and ask what simple services you can do for them that they would be willing to pay for. Three of them will respond and now you can quit your job.

-          If you want to raise money: Contact 100 VCs or angels and share with them your business. If they all say "no" then build up for six months, send them all notes on your progress EVERY MONTH, and go out and raise money again six months later. If you have no progress then start a new business. It didn't work.

Another example: when a book publisher once  rejected me, I wrote back to her saying that I fit perfectly with her list, describing how I could publicize the book with the different branches of her own company, I would make all changes she wanted, I would work with a co-author, etc and wouldn't you know it – she published my book that she had rejected. It was an easy book to write (my co-author did a lot of the writing) and I got an advance and made money. It never would've happened if I hadn't researched her and proactively chased her down.


-          If you want publicity, write your own publicity. Write a guest post for a popular blog. If you want to go on TV, contact the producers of shows and give them ten ideas of what you can talk about and why they should pick you to talk about them. Example: I have no credentials in politics but I wrote a post about a year or so ago for the Huffington Post on who the possible third party candidates could be. Next thing I was on five radio shows talking about it. Suddenly I was a political expert.

Another example: In 2002, I wrote Jim Cramer an email with the subject line: "10 ideas for articles you should write". He liked the ideas I wrote in the email. But he said, "Why don't YOU write them". And that began my financial writing career.


-          If you want health, proactively get it. You know when you are putting bad stuff in your body, when you're not sleeping enough, when you're not exercising enough, when you're letting short-term pleasures get in the way of longer-term gratification . Proactively make sure that when you're 80 you're not stooped over and suffering.

(don't forget to exercise)


-          Of course one way to make more money is to spend less. Cut out the biggest expenses in your life. Even rent or mortgage. It's no crime or shame to move someplace else. I've done it repeatedly when I've needed to. That's how you live happier and longer.


-          If someone is making you angry how do you be proactive? That's easy. Ignore them! Don't try to fight them. You'll never win. Do you think you are going to win an argument against a friend, parent, or boss who hates you? Of course not. Ignore them until they stop hating you. Now that entire problem is gone.


-          So today, write down the five things you want and what the absolute very next step is to getting those things (if you want to start a business, for instance, write down some ideas for businesses and how you can realistically start them within the next month). If you're at a loss, here are my suggestions and it goes along with the Daily Practice I recommend:

- write down 2 goals for what you Physically want out of life and then how you are going to get those things incrementally accomplished TODAY.

- write down 2 goals for what you Emotionally want out of life

- write down 2 goals what you Mentally or Creatively want out of life

- write down 2 goals for what you Spiritually want out of life and how you can go about getting those things

(I did beat out Covey for about 15 seconds. Click here if you want to buy it and get the promotion I describe).


You can come up with a lot of reasons for not proactively beginning something. Excuses are easy and I get it. But how about take a ten day diet from excuses. You can get back to your "I can'ts" 10 days from now. If I said, "I can't start Stockpickr, I'm running a fund of hedge funds." then I never would've started it and sold it nine months later. If I said, "I can't self-publish – nobody will buy it" then I never would've had for 15 seconds the #1 best selling Motivational book on Amazon's kindle store, BEATING OUT Stephen Covey's crappy little book.

After I was dating Sue for two years (the girl whose birthday party it was in the beginning of this post), I went shopping for an engagement ring. My friend, Peter, went down to the main store in Pittsburgh with me. There was an emerald ring that looked nice and it was $700. I was shaking. That was a lot of money to me.

There were so many pretty girls walking around the store and I fell in love with all of them. It was an honest and sincere love I felt for every woman walking around. I wanted to marry them all. Right then. And had lots of babies with them.

Later that night I came home and told Sue I wasn't ready to get married yet. A year later we were broken up. Probably the most effective habit: Don't be proactive about the things you don't want to do. Else you'll die. 

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