America’s Anne Frank

Originally published in Flourishing December 2011.

November 11, 2011—Veteran’s Day—I was privileged to be in New York City, attending Nick Murray’s  Behavioral Strategies Conference.   I attend Nick’s conferences whenever I can, for the same reasons that I read his books, essays, and newsletter: Twenty years of reading Nick Murray has not just made me (I hope) a more effective advisor; it has (I know) made me a better husband, father, grandfather—and a better American.

As one example, in the March 2010 issue of his newsletter, Nick reviewed and recommended Delayed Legacy, by Conrad Netting IV.  Conrad’s father was the same age as my father, and like my dad, Conrad John Netting III set out to do his part to rid Europe of the Nazi scourge.  From June of 1944 through May of 1945, Ted Harvey walked and belly-crawled across Europe—from Omaha Beach through France, Belgium, and Germany—to the banks of the Elbe River.  Conrad Netting’s job was to provide air support for soldiers like Ted.

So, even before Allied infantry forces were fighting their way through the hedgerows of  Normandy, Conrad Netting was skillfully piloting his P-51 Mustang on missions to Berlin, Frankfurt and other German industrial centers.  Then, while on similar missions  after D-Day, Conrad—like many other courageous young pilots—didn’t hesitate to drop out of the clouds to take on German ground forces whenever the opportunity presented itself. 

It was on just such a mission on June 10, 1944 , as he strafed a German convoy—effectively saving the little French town of Saint-Michel-des-Andaines—that Conrad Netting III became a casualty of war.  Five weeks later,  his bride, Katherine Henderson Netting, gave birth to their son, Conrad John Netting IV.  (Look closely and you will see that Conrad’s P-51 was named ConJon IV.)

Katherine never remarried.  She packed up her husband’s belongings, and the many letters that had passed between her and Conrad, and stored them all—along with her memories—in a place that was to remain private for nearly fifty years.

On July 4, 1994, a year after his mother’s death, Conrad Netting IV learned about the foot locker stamped with his father’s name.  For the next decade, he explored—at home, and with the gentle people of Saint-Michel-des-Andaines—his long-delayed legacy. 

I bought Delayed Legacy on Nick Murray’s recommendation in April of 2010, and I’ve returned to it many times.  I never expected to meet its author.  But, in New York City on Veteran’s Day– 2011, Conrad Netting IV—who Nick Murray had likened to Anne Frank for the illustrative power of his personal story—autographed my well-worn copy of his book.  As I visited with Conrad, I found him to be just as charming as his book is wise. Katherine had raised a good man! I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so honored.

Today, Conrad Netting IV is a CPA and financial advisor in San Antonio, Texas, the city in which he was born.  You can get his book at Amazon or from Barnes and Noble, but I’ll be happy to order an autographed copy for you, directly from Conrad.  Just ask.  mh


Death: From Mystery to Solvable Problem?

Originally Published in Flourishing December 2011

Elsewhere in this newsletter, I mention the fact that when I was born, human life expectancy in the United States was 62.9 years.  When my father was born in 1917, it was about 56 years.  A white male born in 2004 had a life expectancy of 75 years, and a white female had a life expectancy of more than 80 years. Do you detect a trend here?  This essay is a thought experiment, but not just a thought experiment:

Robert Freitas of the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing in Palo Alto,California estimates that eliminating a specific list of 50% of currently preventable conditions would extend human life expectancy to …yes, 150 years.

Now, let me really freak you out:  A laboratory at the University of Arkansas has managed to genetically alter worms to extend their life expectancy more than tenfold.  As a result of similar experiments, Dr. Cynthia Kenyon at the University of California now says that “People have always thought that, like a car, our body parts eventually wear out.  But we found out that over time, when one gene was manipulated, the worm remained youthful – in all ways – so that age-related diseases were also postponed.” 

Obviously, we’re not worms, but like worms we are DNA-driven organisms. The first Human Genome Project, completed in 2000, cost $2.7 billion.  At about the same time, Dr. Craig Venter sequenced his own genome for $70 million.  By 2009 it was possible to get a genome sequenced for less than $5,000, and like computing power, the cost and time required for genomic sequencing are accelerating toward zero.  How long will it be before treatments and cures and manufactured human organs are genetically tailored to each individual? I don’t know, but Ray Kurzweil, author of The Singularity is Near, points out that AIDS drugs that cost $30,000 per patient per year fifteen years ago, now cost about $100 per patient per year; and they work more effectively now, too.

The struggle against aging and death has been going on for a long time.  Because we value life, that struggle is the most natural thing we could do.  I expect that most of us will fight against aging and death to the very end of our lives; I know that I intend to do that very thing.  This is not intended as a religious statement, but I have never believed, as some do, that the purpose of life is death. The purpose of life, I believe, is to live it. And maybe, just maybe, it’s time to start thinking about the death of—or at least the radical postponement of—death.

My purpose in this essay is not to hold out an unreasonable hope for radically extended life expectancy for those of us already well past our physical prime.  But, as we close the old year, I would like for you all to think about what it might mean for your financial plan, if you were to live just 15 years beyond your current life expectancy. You might then want to ask yourself what it would mean to your financial plan, if your children or your grandchildren could expect to live to 150 years.  I freely confess, I don’t have the answers – or at least not your answers – but I’m convinced that these are becoming important questions.

And now, since the rest of your life starts today, take good care of yourself; and please—have a Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year!  mh