Patience & Perspective

Where you stand depends on where you sit!

We are being tried as a country in so many ways all at the same time, we should give ourselves credit for whatever efforts we can muster to address the inherent conflicts on what is happening around us every day.

Many older people apparently grow more patient as they grow older, despite the fact that they obviously have less time ahead to have and see the things they want to happen. They have learned that patience provides the virtue and comfort of peace of mind.

Younger people –  with lots of time ahead of them – are often impatient, always eager to skip ahead to the next phases of their lives, and insufficiently appreciative of the fact that impatience often causes them to miss many important experiences in the passages that mark their lives.

This difference between the ages appears to be counterintuitive because the effect of time horizons appears reversed: being older would suggest impatience to get more done. Being younger SHOULD indicate patience because they have their whole lives ahead of them Why is this so??

The inversion, of course, is perspective – older people value the benefits of experience and the serenity of peace of mind; younger people are restlessly impatient to get ahead — and as any parent who’s ever been asked “are we there yet?” knows, for younger folks waiting can be insufferable.

This well-disguised phenomenon may be more important in our world than we realize, because it puts young and old into very different and often difficult competing positions, not on substance, but more because of their dissimilar perspectives.

What can be done to defuse the problems associated with this general phenomenon?

Other than exposing (explaining) it at large, or simply in any specific context, there really is not much to do. It is like the old wisdom that ‘you shouldn’t tell a tall man to be short’ – because he simply can NOT comply.

Yet, if more people come to understand the underlying issue, the overall larger effect of the problem might decline?

Unless, of course, Trump demonstrates his new anti-ageing pill, to be marketed under the brand name “Forever Orange”?

End of Time

Whatever That Means?

Since we have no really good idea about the beginning of time, how can we think about the end of time?

Even the most articulate astrophysicists’ default to ‘a big bang’ as the beginning of time. But, what was the big bang? Bangs come from something, somewhere?

It turns out the definition of time really is not all that important, except as a system for measuring events in terms that are useful to humans for keeping track of things in a systematic way.

Then again, the question about time is — for whom and for what.

“How old are you?” is a normal question and the answer in most cases puts you in a group for and from which, for example, insurers always are interested in assessing risks associated with age.

Why should you care? If you are picking an astronaut for a 30 year-round trip, you probably should not pick a 60-year-old person instead of a 30-year-old?

Maybe time was always supposed to have different meanings for different situations, purposes and people?

For any one person, time effectively begins for that one person with birth and ends with death.

So, perhaps we should not try to generalize our understanding of time, but simply use it as a tool to manage both our individual and collective lives.

OK – then what does ‘the end of time’ mean? Since the beginning of time is shrouded in its own version of nothingness, it stands to reason that ‘the end of time’ is similarly obscure.

However, if ever our planet earth were to be devoured by a black hole, we could safely be able to say – if we still could still think – that must be the end of time.

TIME is just a simple notion designed by idiots and geniuses alike to keep track of the order of things and remind us that we may be keeping others waiting!

Age and Agility

They move in opposite directions!

As one’s age increases, it is inevitable that their agility decreases. Why does that matter and what can we do about it?

There is not much to do about it, absent a magic anti-aging pill (where are you, Donald Trump?). Instead, we have to accept it as inevitable and look for ways to get things done without killing ourselves.

Some tactics are obvious—very few septuagenarians, for example, climb ladders or try to lift heavy things. Nor have I seen many 90-year-olds doing head stands, though I allow for the possibility that they do it at night long after I have gone to sleep!

These sorts of risks are relatively easy to avoid. More insidious is the danger of ordinary falls. Such in-home accidents claim the lives of nearly 25,000 people 75 and older each year – triple the number of 20 years ago!

There is a fierce and understandable reluctance among people ‘of the age’ to make concessions to time. We’re hard-wired to ‘get things done’ and measure ourselves, in part, by our ability to do so.

Overcoming that urge to ignore age and its concomitant lack of agility may be the most important way to extend one’s life.  

Agility is not entirely a physical thing – mental agility is subject to the same natural forces, but with a wider variance. They have in common that dead one way or another does not really matter.

So, the lessons from this tiny piece of musing are to be alert, know your mental and physical limits, and unless you are ready to check out of this world, BE CAREFUL!

Paying attention when ‘up’ pays big dividends by avoiding ‘down’.

Whither My Blogs?

More, Less, Different … How?

I have been blogging now for about 10 years.

I had no plan in mind when I started.  I simply did one and then another and the next thing I knew it had become a habit and now is rather demanding hobby.

There are now over 500 blogs out there and I get constant encouragement from quite a number of readers and regular comments. A handful have asked to be removed over the years, but more have asked to be added.

Recently I have become bored with Trump stuff and the bloody virus and so have quite a few readers, so I am asking myself what next? And, it occurred to me it could not hurt to ask you for your thoughts. Hence this piece.

My aim in starting any piece is to try to make a non-obvious point, provoke a new thought or two and maybe find a touch of humor.

An old friend, who I had not heard from in years recently sent a note commenting that he liked my pontificating. I hate that word and idea – and almost threw in the pen right then (although my correspondent was, in fact, making a compliment). I know I cannot please or bore all the readers all the time, but if I can amuse, inform and stimulate a few most of the time it is worth my time and effort and hopefully yours too.

I cannot, and should not, promise not to ever mention Trump again or to speculate on the health and wealth aspects of the virus. That is today’s reality—like it or not.

The subjects which fascinate me are, and which I’ve touched on in the past. If you share my interest, let me know – or help me expand the list!

—the universe, time and what is out there of possible relevance to us on earth.

— how humans’ social developments progressed from way back.

—how humans can develop and change to meet the eons ahead.

—how to create humor in subtle ways.

— sources of human energy and inspiration.

Those are among my interests. What are yours?

I hope quite a few of you will respond with thoughts and comments. This is also a chance for you to check out without embarrassment – just reply with “unsubscribe.” I will completely understand, and we will still be friends (if we are now?).

You will do ME (and possibly a great many of my readers) a big favor by commenting on my thoughts and topics of possible interest to you in the future.

And/or any other comments you have been withholding out of fear, favor, politeness or boredom.

THANKS! — F

How to Avoid Future Trumps?

SIMPLE OR IMPOSSIBLE?

Out of curiosity, I read Mary Trump’s rather boring but episodically interesting book about the Trump family – in particular, Uncle Donald.

It’s impossible to know what impact this book might have had were it published before the 2016 election. Certainly, it reveals much of the pathological insecurity, lying as oxygen, and self-aggrandizement that America has come to recognize – and abhor – since the election. Whether the public would have given credence to the niece’s damning account of her uncle’s intellectual and emotional flaws (in large part directed at his brother/her father) and thereby tilted the result to Clinton is unknowable.    

Mary Trump’s book comes as Joe Biden is vetting his Vice Presidential candidates. There is nothing like that vetting for Presidential candidates. Someone aspiring to the second slot is compelled to subject themselves to an intrusive and deeply personal examination of their finances, relationships, sexual proclivities – even their children are fair game. Those running for the top job, though, need only concern themselves with information that is publicly available, and are free to release data they believe will advance their election, and suppress those things that might impede their prospects.

That leaves the press to conduct vetting of presidential candidates. Generally, they’re quite good at it, but, as Trump has shown, a candidate determined to cloak himself in secrecy can be surprisingly effective in doing so.

There is, as a result, a significant difference in what is known about a president in advance of their election and what, how and when the public gets its own inside look.

Highlighting the critical need to address that imbalance may be the biggest contribution of Mary Trump’s book.

We should find a way to institutionalize a vetting process for all Presidential candidates in the future. It cannot hurt, and it might keep unfit people from embarrassing themselves and (far worse) damaging the country.

It’s uncertain whether states can require, say, candidates to release their tax returns as a condition for getting their names on the ballot. If not, perhaps something like the independent vetting of Supreme Court candidates by the American Bar Association might work – candidates could be required to submit tax returns and other vetting materials, and an independent commission – WITHOUT releasing the details that were shared – could rate candidates on factors such as openness, honesty, integrity and cooperation, along with more traditional metrics like conflicts of interest or blatant corruption.

It is too bad that Mary Trump did not write her book before the 2016 election, because it forces us to forever wonder, “what if?…”

With plenty of time on their hands as the novel coronavirus continues its deadly march across the country, philosophers, artists and intellectuals have been contemplating the idea that the virus may be nature’s way of restoring harmony – of sending us a message about togetherness being the only effective weapon against divisiveness.

It’s not enough to survive – either this virus or this President (though surviving both WOULD be nice). We must find a way forward. As a clinical psychologist, Mary Trump has given us insight into the corrupted and tragic character of her uncle; we must not let the damage infect our nation’s soul.

Lessons Learned

AND SOMETIMES NOT

Almost 60 years ago – at much too young an age — I was CEO of a public investment fund which had several directors (who were at that time about my age NOW– 89).

We had regular Board meetings to review where we had been and where we aimed to go. At one of those meetings there was a proposal on the agenda to make a small special investment. I supported the investment and asked our analyst – even younger than me – to present the proposal to the Board.

The young man made quite a good presentation and ended by emphasizing that “and it is great, we can get our money back in five years!”

At which point, one of our wizened and wise directors grumbled, “What do we want that for? We’ve got it now!”

Needless to say, the proposal failed—quickly–, and we moved on to the next topic.

I learned a bunch of things from that moment.

If you already ‘have’ the money, investing it to simply just get it back at some future date does NOT by itself make sense.

Sounds right, but the process of investing is not as simple as it may seem on the surface. The trade-offs are often not obvious or linear.

Investing is NOT purely a mathematical exercise. The goal – obviously? — is to make a series of investments that together over time increase in value and balance risk.

Since those days (Neanderthal it seems now in the simplicity of the financial instruments we had available then ), investing has been turned into an art form with all kinds of mathematical tricks.

At the end of the day what you do not say or do not DO is as, or more, important than what you DO.

BEWARE the Covid virus effect on our investing world!

Of Markets and Madness

MORE MYSTERIOUS THAN EVER?

I have been involved in financial markets for just about 70 years. In that time, I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything like the current disconnect between what the market says and on-the-ground present and future realities as seen today. I was pleased, therefore, to see my friend Bob Samuelson at the Washington Post add the weight of his famous brain to these puzzling  questions.

As I write this, the country has passed 135,000 Covid-19 deaths; the infection rate is skyrocketing across a vast swath of the nation; the death rate is up 50% from where it was two weeks ago — and climbing; hospitals in several states are at risk of being overwhelmed; several states have paused or reversed reopening plans; unemployment is still more than double what it was just a few short months ago; and the Dow Jones industrial average is UP more than 500 points.

To be sure, markets (despite their reputation of providing “aggregated intelligence”) have never been particularly good mirrors. They tend to accurately reflect underlying economic conditions most closely on the downside – in reaction to a burst dot-com bubble, or the failure of too-big-too-fail financial institutions, or a pandemic that cripples economic activity.

Following that traditional course, markets ‘dutifully’ collapsed in the spring. But they swiftly recovered nearly half the losses, even as (offline) economic activity remained largely stagnant. Much of that, obviously, was the result of the TRILLIONS of $$ pumped into the economy to keep businesses and consumers afloat, and the lack of good investment alternatives, given near-zero interest rates. The persisting expectation that more federal help is on the way –partly because it is an election year– is also still supporting the market.

Propped up by this flood of cash, investors apparently are looking past the 50,000+ new virus cases each day and are betting that we will get through the crisis reasonably quickly. Part of this is driven by the fact that the market today is NOT primarily driven by individual investors, but institutions – mutual funds, pension funds and insurance companies – that account for most of all stock holdings. These large institutional investors can, in most cases, afford to be wrong (and for the most part, they’re gambling with other people’s money!). Some of them may be simply playing the ups and downs within the larger arc of market movements. Others may think they are helping to prop up Trump for the election.

Whatever the reasons, the market is acting on its own, largely decoupled from what is happening in the world. It is its own master, setting its own rules and seemingly oblivious to the larger goals and interests of society.

Unfortunately, the same is true of the coronavirus, which has only one goal: self-propagation. Until the health crisis is mitigated, “recovery” is a chimera.

In this environment, the best watchword for all investors continues to be BEWARE.  

Early Warnings from History

WITH THE USUAL CAVEATS!

Historical parallels have been in mind a bit lately. The obvious parallel is Covid-19 and the Great Influenza of 1918, in which officials in power then and now repeatedly downplayed the threat (which, by 1923, would take up to 100 million lives). An interesting and important subject but hard to probe in the middle of today’s game.

I have written a couple of times since April about the great uncertainty in the financial markets. As many have noted, the stock market is not truly a reflection of the economy, but rather a reflection of the collective intelligence of all its participants about future performance of the market and the surrounding economy. It is, in other words, partially self-determining.

That’s dangerous for individuals and small institutional investors, who may lack both the gambling spirit and the ability to weather short-term losses. In this environment, with a virus raging across the nation and a market seemingly oblivious to the consequences of the toll in human life, commerce and employment alike, I have wondered what historical parallels might help us intuit, at least in some limited way, the unknowable: what to expect in the months and years ahead.

There is an old saying that one picture is worth a thousand words. This one may be worth many more:

The Great Depression (1930s) is the closest available parallel to our current straits: Then, we encountered a steep and sudden collapse brought on by speculative lending and resulting in massive unemployment.  Today, we have a steep and sudden collapse triggered by a virus – and resulting in massive unemployment. After the initial crash of 1929, the nation entered 2030 with an unemployment rate of under 10%. Two years later, it was nearly 25%. Today, we’re just over 10% — at least officially.

Thus, this picture suggests to us what we should be most worried about today. Then, like now, the market first appeared to be “bouncing back” quickly (which came to be known as the “sucker’s market”) – though far from all the way back. In the Great Depression that initial bounce gave way to another fall, to even lower depths than the first. That pattern then repeated itself for the next three years before the market finally reached its post-crash low in mid-1932, and the market hadn’t recovered even half its value at the onset of U.S. engagement in World War II – nine long years later.

The big question remains: Where are we headed? Trump would have us believe there will be a “V-shaped” recovery. The scientists say the virus will be with us for quite a while, suggesting future shocks for an indeterminate amount of time. Even if the reality is somewhere in between, the ride is not likely to be pleasant.

History tells us that there has never been a “V-shaped” recovery to a severe collapse, and there is little reason to believe the current market, amid the ongoing threat posed by the virus, can prove history wrong. Already, new restrictions are being implemented, and reports of an economic contraction starting in mid-June (the result of premature re-openings in a broad swath of the country) suggest bad news may be just around the corner. 

In this environment, it is impossible to rule out a repeat of the pattern that occurred almost a century ago. Optimists and practitioners may reject that possibility, but then they must confront the reality of the more recent (and relatively brief) 2008 collapse – recoveries are never swift, even (or especially) after you hit bottom quickly.

Many so-called experts say ‘wisely’ you simply cannot reliably predict the future. Naturally, it is a waste of time to argue with them, because ONLY time will tell.

But, people whose job is to make money for investors owe it to their clients to look at all the clues possible, and then devise an investment strategy that can straddle the good, the bad and the unknowable.

The benefit of this blog’s PICTURE is that it helps bring into focus a wider range of possibilities than have been generally under consideration.

The future is likely going to take longer to definitively show its hand than many expect.

There will be interim up movements that likely will also sucker a lot of people prematurely back into the market.

Let’s fervently hope that the coronavirus depression doesn’t end the way the Great Depression did.

– – – – – – – – – –

Coming next: markets and reality – ever Mark’s twain to meet?

Our Heritage and History

RETELLING YESTERDAY’S STORIES TODAY

None of my heroes are saints – in either the literal or figurative sense. Indeed, given human nature, most earthly heroes are, like the rest of us, complex and flawed human beings.

That simple fact is an underappreciated nuance in today’s roiling debate over statuary, the Confederate flag, and how we choose to recognize and remember those who made important contributions to develop our nation.

The first part is easy: all statues, flags, names and other “tributes” to the Confederacy should come down immediately. The traitorous, losing side of the Civil War does not deserve such honors. In many cases, their creation was itself a racist reaction to newfound and hard-fought progress for Black Americans in the early part of the 20th Century (long after the cause itself had been defeated). As such, these symbols were intended to provoke, and still do.

More problematic are our nation’s Founders. Tribute to those forebearers is scattered far and wide across America – monuments, statues, schools, libraries, streets, towns, entire states even.

Let me be very clear: I do not condone or approve IN ANY WAY of Thomas Jefferson’s ownership of slaves, or his fathering of at least one child with a woman he legally owned. Nor do I condone Abraham Lincoln’s campaign against Native Americans.  At the same time, both were instrumental in advancing the great experiment of America. The grand memorials that bear their names on the National Mall exist not to honor a lost and disreputable cause, but to celebrate their gigantic contributions to our nation.

As a country, we periodically seek to rewrite history. We agonize and argue over that past as a method of purging ourselves of our present-day wrongs. In essence, we are punishing our ancestors for our evolving views — instead of the current-day actors who really are the ones truly standing in way of progress.

Black lives do matter A LOT, and we should concentrate on changing everything that gets in the way of achieving that goal.

Indeed, in his own limited way Jefferson himself knew that Black lives matter when he said, ‘all men are created equal.’ Of course, a problem was that the norm of that day did not really include Black men (or any women) in that phrase. Remember, the Constitution says in print that a Black person counts as only 3/5ths of a white life.

Despite that, Jefferson in his own limited way, which is distorted and insufficient today, sought to advance the lives of many, if not all, the people he encountered in his life.

The Jefferson Memorial may seem out of place to some, or strike others as a justification of what appears today to be clearly wrong. Nevertheless, Jefferson played a major role in the history of America, which is as indisputable as his human failings.

I take the case of Jefferson to spell out this difficult distinction because he was, despite all, otherwise such an exceptional person.

Eventually, all the Confederate statues will fall; and the Confederate flag will fall further into disrepute until it, too, vanishes. In the meantime, it’s worth keeping in mind that Robert E. Lee hasn’t been our enemy for 150 years; and his mansion still harmlessly looks down on DC?

Focusing on historic wrongs should NOT provide any excuse to ignore what is really needed to MAKE BLACK LIVES MATTER TODAY!!!

The Judges Have Ruled

Feedback on the Great Slogan Challenge of 2020 and other items.

Last week I published a piece on fictional “twins” who have different political perspectives but are otherwise much alike. “How to tell them apart?” was the hook, and I invited you to share your guesses on whom they would support in November.

It was, in truth, a piece I’d been mulling for some time, based on something I had read on the subject of how people come around to supporting one candidate over another. Perhaps I mulled too long, because the world around us has certainly changed dramatically in the last few months.

Thus it was that a sharp reader, within minutes of my post, who provided the definitive answer to the question of which twin was supporting which candidate: “They’re both voting for Biden” was her succinct and perfect answer! Case closed. But it was provocative enough to provide real feedback.

Regular readers know I’ve been concerned at the lack of a core message by Joe Biden – a brief, simple statement that highlights his values and goals; the counterpoint, as it were, to Trump’s bumbling “Bolton is an idiot” response to what HE hopes to accomplish in a second term.

A post in June offered some sloganeering suggestions and I solicited yours. From that, “A Better Way Forward” emerged as the most popular choice among readers. Then, I had what I thought was a stroke of genius – “Rise and Shine.” To me, it struck all the right notes – positive, aspirational, action and values based. It even nods to the racial justice movement! I ran it by a couple of people whose response was so positive that I rushed it out the (virtual) door into your hands, asking whether you shared my enthusiasm.

Most readers who responded did not, in fact, think highly of the idea. Less a stroke of genius, they perhaps concluded, than symptoms of a stroke! C’est la vie. I appreciate having an audience of friends, family and colleagues who can help set me and my ideas straight.

Lastly, a reader recently complained about my recent emphasis on Trump. Point taken. I think most of you share my deep concern about the future of our nation under Trump. And it can’t be denied that we’re ALL exhausted from four years of … this. I’ll strive to remember that what is an outlet for me can sometimes be an unwelcome burden for others.

The good news is –there are many, many other subjects that interest me! And, November is just around the corner to save further talk about the Donald. WE HOPE!

Just wait and see!