The coffee experience

The coffee experience

I’ve had two now. Both involved long (40 then 20 minutes) waits in the cold for a zap of espresso. Was it worth it? Hardly. It turns out the cheap pod coffee maker at home is just fine, maybe not quite as good, but overall, sadly for NZ Inc, the more pleasant pathway.

Instant reflection on that thought: self absorbed first world boomer problem! It’s raining today in Auckland – quite consistently – so there’s a warm cozy feeling in the apartment with E Kore Rawa E Wehe – Never be Apart – by TEEKS playing on the Hifi.

One of my neighbours escaped Russian aggression with his family as a young boy, fleeing into Nazi occupied Austria and eventually, by chance of where the ship went, to New Zealand. He proudly displays the crest of his country of birth on his motor vehicle. About a year ago his wife moved to hospital care in a rest home and his routine is sitting with her and having lunch each day.  He hasn’t seen her for six weeks. Even under a lockdown regime that isolated only those predominantly impacted by the ‘rona, he would probably not have got to see her. Whenever I see his car – it’s never moved – I wonder how he’s doing. It must be hard and I imagine him drawing on his early life challenges to put this into perspective.

The Worldometer continues to fascinate me, not just for the COVID-19 statistics, but the wealth of other information on other matters in real time – how long until oil runs out (43 years – don’t rush for the E-car quite yet, maybe, although there are other reasons),  World’s population (7,781,858,953 but it grows so quickly that this tally was there for less than a second),  deaths this year (almost 20m), today’s net population growth (145,000!), undernourished people in the world (852m), and deaths of children under 5 this year (2.5m). At least none of the under 5 deaths are from COVID-19, or under 10 for that matter. The statistics on COVID-19 continue to show that by far those most at risk are those over 65 with underlying conditions (which I think probably includes many elderly) and others with underlying conditions. Men continue to have about double the chance of dying from COVID-19 as women. I haven’t seen scientific basis for that, but you’d have to assume one will come.

Having a bit of time to catch up on news over the weekend showed the economic challenges are front of mind, with the health choices we’ve made as a country a close second. Those that consider that the elimination at all and any cost was the way to go, will always see it that way I reckon. A close consideration of risk likelihood and impact is still needed to see whether that is correct. Embedded in that analysis are ethical choices that have been made.

I do not doubt for one second that the approach has saved certain people from death this year.

Is a blanket “stop the ‘rona at any cost” ethical? Sounds it, but it’s not all about creating winners. I blogged about this in more detail on Day 12.  That approach does not consider fully the risk’s impact – who actually has been at risk – and the unintended health (and economic) consequences that flowed. The sick people who couldn’t get treatment during the lockdown. I won’t add my iliotibial band in there, but there are many thousands who had treatments cancelled and delayed. This has to have made a real impact on the lives of those people. It was an ethical call, preferring those most at risk from one illness to other sick people at known risk of damaging their health. And I don’t think we should shy away from a conversation about that.

And for all the country has achieved, don’t delude yourself we’re an outlier in achieving the low spread and deaths: Australia’s death rate per population is (slightly) lower than ours and there’s a total of 120 countries or territories with the same or lower death rate than us. Maybe that will change when the ‘rona spreads, but it may not. Afterall, it’s hardly spread here at all and there’s no saying it’s going to take off in Africa to the same degree as it has in the US, UK, Spain, France and Italy, where 60% of all deaths are.

Maybe it’s a good learning opportunity for the country. We all want the world to reflect our own version of Nirvana. We want more land for housing – but it costs rural production and adds to environmental damage; we want first class public transport – but someone has to pay; we want an easy drive across the city – but roads create cars (sort of), and so on.  Stopping COVID-19 in the manner we have done has a price, that we’re only just starting to see.

I remember my Grandma in 1990 the last time I saw her, at the South Auckland Hospice. She didn’t see me. She sat, head slumped, every breath was a rasp.  A few short months prior she had decided that there was to be no treatment of her cancer – she had seen almost all her siblings treated and then die – and declared that the Lord had given her “3 score years and 10” (70), plus another 14, and that was that. I’m not sure I could have that attitude, but that message shaped my thinking I think.

Feels heavy on a gloomy Sunday! And I quoted the Bible, on a Sunday.  I haven’t completed my thinking here, but I’ve well exceeded the desirable blog word limit, so thanks for making it this far!

And despite declaring I had no opinion on the End of Life referendum on Day 11, I now have.  That feels useful and I’ll take that as a win for deep work.

Time for a home espresso.

Stephen

 

Day 33

Day 33

A very kind reader sent me a message today “I have learnt a lot more about you than I otherwise would in the business world.  You’re a great writer, you like the outdoors and walking, and you’re a big softy when it comes to your parents“.

Writing each day for the length of the Lockdown was about several things for me. Creating a worthwhile pattern or chain, straight out of Cal Newport’s Deep Work and something I mused on earlier on in the Lockdown. Practice is an under-rated thing, linked closely with the ability and time made to do genuine deep work. Work that truly makes a difference to what you’re trying to achieve.  The Lockdown was and still is, a perfect time for trying some deep work. The experiment of the daily blog has been rewarding, and hasn’t at all felt like hard work. It’s helped me process thoughts and feelings, and created a discipline of continuous work that felt meaningful for me.

I’ve always written in my blog as a reflective process too. In the leadership development work I facilitate, the power of reflection is always top of mind and I’ve, perhaps selfishly, used these last five weeks as a personal reflection. To see what might come out of a condensed, focussed, purpose-driven reflection to achieve lasting change. And it was doing something, when doing nothing seemed like a real possibility!

During the month, Facebook and the like has been great for connecting with family and friends, well that’s what I pretend it’s like, but it’s really full of feeds to meet your personal algorithm, echos of your own views and prejudices, and largely uninformed commentary building on the echos. It, along with Twitter, and an empty email inbox, will have zero consequences when the day comes and people talk about what was meaningful and memorable in your life. The shallow work things in your life don’t matter and the same applies in leadership. Ignore them. Cal Newport’s Facebook Amnesty can help.

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I noticed these last five weeks that a majority of the viewers came to the blog via LinkedIn, which has prompted me to look at it a bit. It’s nice to look at, clean, and the commentary is somewhat more intelligent. Is it just a giant for sale thing or is it just me? Is there anyone there buying? You might know that my main day job in client work is leading the PwC Forensic Services practice – you know, economic crime, conflicts of interest, fraud, anti-money laundering et al. Although during the last five weeks, most of the time has been spent in my people and culture lead role in PwC Consulting, as you might expect. Perhaps I should have spent time writing about all this stuff to sell! Maybe, really, that might have been a better use of my time and energy. Afterall, someone has to pay for all the nice things! Is it worthwhile reflecting and sharing?

Writing wasn’t the only chain I had. I walked everyday – total distance 322 km in 41 separate walks. I love walking and I’m sitting at 140 walks for the year, creating a habit for mental and physical health. The Lockdown has solidified the walking chain and I have a deep sense of contentment and achievement from that.

When we went into Lockdown 33 days ago, it felt quite scary and I was quite anxious.  Living close to the Newmarket Viaduct, the drop in city activity was obvious and confronting. I got irritated about the 80,000 people that were said to die if we didn’t do anything as it seemed obviously wrong. Today that was brought up again, sort of, in a rough looking chart that mapped countries that did nothing vs those that did. That binary message is too simplistic as I doubt anybody thinks we should have done nothing.  It draws from declarations of war language to fire up a community.  It’s hardly been challenged. I’m disappointed in that as it’s an opportunity for authenticity lost.

My anxiety passed quite quickly and I let my own thoughts about where I was each day into the blog.  At its core I think leadership and authenticity are inextricably one and the same. Together. Peas in a pod. When you write your own journal, you’re reasonably likely to write truthfully, honestly and authentically. So the same has always applied here for me. It can feel risky at first. It’s not smooth and manicured like a marketing message. What if you said the wrong thing? What if you offended someone? What if your thoughts today, are not yours tomorrow? Hey, so that’s authenticity right?

I’ve no idea about the writing as my kind reader has said. I’m pretty sure I’ve started way too many sentences, like this one, with “And”, although you are allowed to, apparently. What I do know, is that if you want to build trust in your life, with a team, your family, maybe your readers, you share a bit and build the trust bank. Trust is at the heart of meaningful business relationships.  Possibly even better than a LinkedIn Ad!

What you share must be authentic, things that matter to you. And the more you know about yourself, the more you have to share. Before you know it you have a story, your leadership story which will start with events long before you were in business, probably from your family. So of course, I’m an old softy about the folks!

It won’t be every day from now on, but the blog feels that it has a much better meaning for me now.

I’m feeling grateful for the opportunity to reflect and share. There’s a lot of pain in the world right now and I, relatively speaking, have none. Just the leg a bit still. Thank you.

Stephen

 

 

 

Day 21

Day 21

We turned 21 but we didn’t get the Key! Battle lines are being drawn between experts.

One group, who advise the government, says that the risks of COVID-19 can’t be understated, that Lockdown is vital and we’re so far doing precisely what we should have been doing to eradicate the virus from New Zealand.

On the other side are experts who say that the risks for most people are overstated and that the main impact of the the virus is to compress the mortality of a certain group from twelve months to two weeks. They say that we can’t ever expect to eradicate the virus, that’s just not practical.  Of course, there’s more to it than that but these are the highlights (or lowlights really).

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The first group will be saying that at Alert level 3 there should be severe restrictions on movement and that a return to level 2 should be measured and slow, ensuring all risk is eliminated.

The second group essentially proposes a return to level 2 now, but with Lockdown applying to those over 70 (or maybe 60) and those with low immunity.

One of the specialists from the first group suggested that this proposal was impracticable. I doubt it’s any more impractical than what we have! Which is not to say he was wrong but it’s hardly a fighting argument.

Naturally group two has the support of many business people who say that the medicine is worse than the disease.

Adversarial processes are used commonly in law and in parliament. They promote a “winner takes all” approach to settling a dispute. As the economy and society hemorrhage from the Lockdown we’ll see more of this advocacy.

Good leaders build consensus and in my experience, business leaders are generally excellent at it. Command and control has its place – including during a state of national emergency – but consensus will be far more sustainable in the long run.

So it’s an odd situation. We have a government that built a consensus across the political spectrum to go into Lockdown. This Lockdown was built on evidence that was available at the time – 80,000 will die if we don’t respond – and that we would be the next Italy if we didn’t take action.

A few weeks on a lot has changed. There is little doubt that the measures have squashed the curve. But we’re more or less being given the same evidence – the dementia patients dying has been cited as why we can’t relax. I know this sounds harsh, but the majority of those patients have “Do not resuscitate” orders against them. These are folk who, sadly, their loved ones have made that very tough decision about. I’ve been involved in one of those decision. You do what’s right.  These folk do not represent or crystallise a real and present danger to what the majority in the community might face. They do explain why we need to flatten the curve so hospitals are no overwhelmed. We’ve done that.

The toughest calls are not always what you do. In my work sometimes we make calls not to go for something. They’re really tough and you fight against all your commercial instincts to do what’s right. That’s not in anyway to compare the gravity of the calls that might need to be made, however, leaders need to know when not doing something is right.

I remember when the fourth Labour Government put an end to shopping restrictions in the weekend. I remember clearly the great feeling of freedom that, finally, here was a government that wanted to stop telling us what to do!

I’m hoping for a grand consensus and freedom for those who need it, and relevant restrictions and, yes, use some of that $52B in emergency funding, and pay whatever it takes to keep those most at risk safe and secure.

Too much sitting at my computer on video calls have started to take their toll. Some soreness in joints that shouldn’t be there so I’m going to try and take a day time walk tomorrow. The walking jacket is now always on hand. The summer walks are over.

Let me out!

Day 18

Day 18

Jerry Seinfeld attributes his success as a comedian to one particular habit. As he was developing his career, every day he wrote jokes and when he’d written the joke or jokes, he crossed the day off on his calendar.  Seinfeld called it “not breaking the chain”. No day missed.

Last year, having retired from running a couple of years before, I got more serious about walking for fitness. When I got to the end of the year I noticed on my app that I’d done about 325 walks in 2019. So close but yet so far to one a day. So I decided to make a go of it in 2020.

I’ve been asked why I’m so particular about logging every walk on my app. It’s the crossing off thing. I make a habit of it and the little sense of achievement drives a behaviour that keeps me walking. A quick overnight to Wellington? Pack the shoes and clothes and I’ll almost always find the time for few kilometres around the Capital. The benefits are obvious, but benefits alone don’t create beneficial habits.  I “bank” some days by walking more than once a day- although I don’t allow a longer walk to be split – no gaming the system! And there’s a minimum walk distance too. I can use those banked days when it’s just not possible – unexpected travel, long working days and so on can occasionally get in the way. So far that’s been only twice this year and I’m well ahead.

So the Lockdown has fitted very well into this routine. In fact, out and about walking these last couple of weeks has brought another dimension to the habit. Everyone seems to be in the habit all of a sudden.  Regular walkers, like runners and cyclists are a  friendly bunch and you can always count on a greeting being exchanged. When the Lockdown started, the newbies didn’t seem so certain. There was the two metre thing of course, but also could the ‘rona fly if you said Good Morning.  I noticed this weekend it’s become friendlier and more relaxed. As we head down towards freedom again, wouldn’t it be great if some of those families, couples, singles and groups who’ve made a habit, kept it going? They won’t unless they have a system.

Keep the daily walk going by not breaking the chain

This “not breaking the chain” is laid out in Cal Newport’s Deep Work that I read earlier and I’ve referenced a couple of times already during the Lockdown in the context of the Facebook amnesty and Deep Work.

When I combine a set amount of time for deep work with a daily “don’t break the chain” habit for that deep work, I’ve found a winning formula for doing what is meaningful. I realise this sounds quite obvious and it’s tempting to think “I could do that if I needed to” which is a little white lie I can tell myself. If you don’t need to do meaningful work – deep work – regularly, what do you need to do? It certainly isn’t clearing emails, filling in forms and signing off stuff – yes we need to do it, but it shouldn’t be a priority – which is where a habit for what matters comes in.

So when the Lockdown was about to start, I challenged myself to write each day on this blog. I’ve never been able to get regular with it, but I thought, make some good out of a situation and see if I can create a habit. The new insight about this chain I’ve noticed after 20 odd days, is the “skin in the game” principle that’s made it a decent challenge and kept me going. This is a blog that I try to keep authenticity in leadership at its heart – so it’s important for me that I stick to that principle. No abstract blogs, it’s my experiences combined with my own reading.  Put another way, no going through the motions. If it’s worthwhile creating a habit for, do it with integrity – some skin in the game – you won’t always get it right, but better to give something a crack properly than skim the surface. Save that for clearing the emails.

One chain we do seem to have broken in New Zealand, if we ever had it, is COVID-19. Eighteen cases on day 18. But there’s a new statistic – breaches! Hopefully that fades away real quick. And what about Iceland – they’ve tested a massive percentage of the population and found 50% of those with COVID-19 didn’t know! Asymptomatic, which begs the question about how widespread the virus is, and how really impactful it is on some people only. There’s a full story yet to be told.

But one story still going is my blog chain – unbroken for the Lockdown – although I could cheat and “bank” the three I wrote before the actual day (couldn’t I?) and  I’ve walked 122 times this year. I can’t tell you how many kilometres or the police might show an unhealthy interest!

Stephen

 

Day 12

Day 12

Settling in was the feeling today. We’ve had two weekends and it’s the third working week we’re in. After my walk this evening I felt quite tired again, not sure why. Have I got Daylight Savings around the wrong way somehow!?

I suspect it’s running on adrenaline for too long, but it could also be all the walking – don’t tell anyone but I have got quite a lot of exercise done – or should I say more regular exercise during the lockdown. Even lost some weight!

Over the weekend I noticed lots of walkers, runners and cyclists out and about, enjoying the great weather in Auckland and getting their essential Lockdown exercise. Walking past the Olympic Pool in Newmarket a bus pulled up and the driver exited. I joked that it was a busy day on the bus today. “No one at all” he said. I commented that you can only get in the back door, and so I assume you can only use your Auckland Transport Hop Card. He told me there were three ways of travelling: If you’re an essential worker, it’s no charge, if you have a Hop Card, you swipe it, and if you haven’t got a Hop Card, you “just take a ride for free“.  Weird times we live in. Even weirder than the payment options, is where do you go, and when you get there what do you do?

Which is more or less what we’ll be asking in 16 days and a bit. We were told it was a minimum of 4 weeks and I’m picking it’s unlikely we’ll be free earlier, until all likelihood of risk is eliminated.

When we assess risks in almost any field that I am aware of we assess Likelihood of the event occurring and the Impact of the event (virus in this case) should it occur. So in assessing the risks of COVID-19 it is firstly necessary to assess the likelihood of the virus spreading.  So if nothing is done to mitigate the virus there is probably a strong likelihood that it will enter the community, obviously really.

One would then look a the actual impact. There seems little doubt that there is harm from the virus. In studies I have read, acknowledging that there’s still lots of research to be done, some general themes appear:

  • Most people suffer mild symptoms.  One Chinese study put this as high as 80%. This must mean that there are many more cases of COVID-19 than the records show, I would have thought. I wonder whether the figure is exponentially higher, globally. But that’s my speculation, but if it’s the case, the death rate is much lower.
  • The death rate increases by age. Although there was a media report recently of a 5 year old dying, it hasn’t come through in the statistics, and subject to that, the death rate for ages 0-9 is zero. By far the greater risk of death is to those over 60-70+ and those with underlying medical conditions. This BBC article suggests that many of those that died would have died from something in the short term anyhow, and argues that to attribute those deaths to COVID-19 is not realistic.  That sounds harsh, but everyone dies of something, and if COVID-19 is the final trigger, it paints a different picture of harm. Be that as it may, patients with cardiovascular disease are much more likely to die, so if you’re 75 with heart disease you’re at high risk of serious harm. Of course, death is not the only harm – being on a ventilator, struggling to breathe for an extended period is not exactly a picnic.
  • There are non-medical impacts too: If there were many cases, we might not have enough medical resources to manage it i.e. beds and personnel.

What we’re hearing a lot more of now is the economic impact of the Lockdown which, on the face of it, has tackled the risk by ensuring that virtually none of the impacts – barring a very small number of exceptions – have come to fruition. And this is where it gets really complicated.

Early information released was that there was the likelihood of 80,000 deaths in New Zealand alone, then it was adjusted to 14,000, then back up to 20,000+.  I doubt that many people think now (or even then) that those figures were even remotely possible, given the relatively small global death rate – I say small because it’s never going to get anywhere near the 1.8m people that died from the Spanish Flu in 1918, and might be within the ballpark of the 150,000 who die each year globally from influenza.

Taking an approach that has virtually eliminated all harm in New Zealand is attractive, but all risk decisions have winners and losers.  In this decision there are a probably relatively small number of winners (we may never know) and many losers, in economic and social terms.

Leaders make decisions on risk daily. No decision is perfect and leaders know that you can’t eliminate risk completely – be that regulatory, economic, timeframes, Cyber protection, or the myriad of other things that need to be assessed for risk. But there will always be risks that leaders determine the impact of is just too great to bear, and will take maximum steps, at the cost of other activities, to eliminate that risk. Physical workforce safety is one of those things.

Whether the virtually complete elimination of the impact of the COVID-19 was the right thing to do is a judgment call made by the Country’s political leaders. We won’t know whether the consensus that this was right or wrong until much later, when the economic and social impacts – the new harm caused to eliminate the virus harm – are properly known.

But I do feel more relaxed about it all having lightly analysed a decision making process!

And that could well be my longest blog – way too long – sorry about that!

Stephen

Day 3

Day 3

The weekend! I heard the weather forecast and wondered whether we could do without it. Does it even matter now?

A walk (yep the weather matters!) – got the sweats up today –  chats to family and friends, although not face-to-face. The roads were quiet, but not completely clear, although I got this shot of one of the busiest roads in New Zealand on my walk. The prison in the background. Every hardship in perspective.

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I started a new audiobook – Getting Things Done – by David Allen on my son Thomas‘ recommendation. As the world changes we all need to find new ways of working and finding fulfilment.

I broke my Facebook Amnesty – a tool from my last book – Deep Work by Cal Newport which has unexpectedly prepared me for my Home-D. Unsurprisingly, Facebook hasn’t changed, but the mood seemed to be of compliance with the new emergency lockdown and almost unfettered power to the police. Questions about approach appeared to burst bubbles (not the home bubble I hope!) of reverence to those in power. It worries me that there is so little critical thinking on where we’re going. I’m not saying we’re not doing the right thing, but in Leadership, embracing all alternative viewpoints provides a richness in decision making. Think Appreciative Inquiry, Strategic Thinking, Ladder of Inference and BXT. When we embrace views contrary to ours we do our best.

I obsessed slightly about the rates of COVID-19 infection and impacts. Cases went up in New Zealand as expected, by about the same as the day before, although the numbers in ICU doubled – from 1 to 2. Global cases passed 600,000 with deaths at 27,500 and those in serious or critical condition at 23,500. Ninety-five percent of cases still active are in mild condition.  Italy and Spain have extraordinary large numbers of deaths per million of population (151 and 110), then there’s a group in the 20s and 30s (France, Iran, Netherlands, Belgium, and Switzerland), a few countries with rates of 5 – 10 per million and the bulk well below.

Practiced some Windfulness today on my walk – focussing on the surroundings and stillness, although there were plenty of people out exercising. I used the time to bring my thoughts in closer, to focus on what I can control and lead. It helped.

Anxietyometer: Started higher today, but down after the walk and focussed mindfulness.

Season 3 of Ozark is out! 

Stephen

 

 

Shades of Fabrication

Shades of Fabrication

The world marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz last week on 27 January 2020  – which is International Holocaust Remembrance Day – with the main memorial at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum in Poland. There’s unlikely to be anyone still alive to be brought to justice, but we mustn’t ever forget and stop learning from these tragic events and the evil that caused them.

The Netflix series The Devil Next Door, is the story of  John Demjanjuk, a Ukrainian-born Grandfather and retired automobile employee living in Cleveland, USA, extradited in 1981 to Israel to stand trial on charges relating to his alleged time as a Nazi death camp guard. He is accused of being “Ivan the Terrible”.

Various witnesses identified Demjanjuk as Ivan the Terrible from the death camps. Watching the trial I had a sense that the evidence didn’t really stack up. In fact, it looked like there had been fabrication of some vital evidence –  a photograph on a military record appeared to have been replaced with another – and there was other evidence that appeared, forensically, dubious.

He was convicted but later the conviction was overturned on appeal on the basis that there was reasonable evidence that another person was Ivan the Terrible.  Demjanjuk returned to the USA, but investigations continued and and he was later extradited to Germany to stand trial on being an accessory to the murder of almost 28,000 Jewish people at Sobibor extermination camp. He was convicted and died while waiting the outcome of an appeal in 2012, aged 91.

Recently, photographs have emerged which appear to confirm that Demjanjuk was indeed a guard at Sobibor. Demjanjuk’s son denies the evidence, but the German police have used biometrics to confirm the identity.

I don’t know the intricate details of all the evidence, but on the face of it, it looked like evidence was fabricated, or at best confused, at the original trial. The prosecutor and witnesses were adamant and, unsurprisingly emotional in their certainty that they had the right man. But they were probably wrong. Not wrong that he was a guard at a death camp, just not the one that they said he was.

To those charged with investigations, the idea of fabricating evidence should be an anathema. There’s untold stories of fabricated evidence around the world, to dishonestly secure convictions. We’re not immune to it in New Zealand.  So what drives those charged with getting to the truth of a matter to make it up? Some investigators are over zealous and forget their purpose is to obtain and present fact “I know they did it and this will help to prove it” or “He’s a bad bugger anyway, it’s about time we got him for something“. Utterly unacceptable of course.

But there are shades of grey too, in investigating. In my forensic work we come up against it quite a lot. Statements that are correct, but not complete: “Files were uploaded to the google drive the day before she finished up her employment“. But wait, they were personal files. That’s a different perspective. Or “No authority was obtained for the expenditure“, whilst leaving out that no such authority was required.

We’re frequently challenging, and reminding ourselves that’s it’s not just the truth of the matter, but the full truth that’s really important. A lot can depend on it.

Of course, we’re not investigating crimes against humanity or murder, but the principles are just the same. No shade of fabrication is acceptable, or in the end likely to even be helpful. I suspect a lot of pain could have been avoided if those investigating Demjanjuk in the 1970s and 80s had been a bit less zealous, and a lot more impartial.

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Stephen

Note:

Under German law, having died before his appeal was determined, Demjanjuk is not considered to have been convicted of the crimes he was accused of.

 

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