Exercising Our Freedom Not to Speak

Needing sunshine and ocean views, I watched some of the Andy Williams San Diego Open at Torrey Pines Sunday afternoon. More simply, the San Diego Open. In two weeks, I’ll watch parts of the L.A. Open at Riviera.

Few people fully appreciate the slighted cousin of freedom of speech, freedom not to speak. News flash: we are not required to use the stadium or tournament labeling corporations pay tens of millions for annually. Care to join me in sabotaging the Professional Golf Association’s sponsors and other sports-affiliated corporations investments in branding?

Which brings me to another corporate brand, our Celebrity President who is dominating the news for reasons extremely concerning to anti-fascists worldwide. More important than being liked, or even respected, the Celebrity President craves attention. Good press (Fox News) is better than bad, but bad press is MUCH better than being ignored. As steady consumers of President-centric media, we fuel his mania. The dilemma, of course, is we have to pay attention, because as proven already, he has the power to wreak havoc on civil liberties, economic policy, the environment, and foreign policy, meaning life as we’ve known it.

What to do? Shine the light elsewhere, like on “How US college endowments lost big taking on more risk”? No, we need to shine the light as brightly as possible on his every move, while simultaneously applying our freedom not to speak. . . his name. I hereby propose, that everyone, from hence forward, simply refer to him in writing and in speech as the President. If all of us dissenters assiduously avoid using his last name, eventually, he’s certain to lose his mind at which point he will be declared incompetent, necessitating a return to private life where he can watch all the corporate branded professional golf he wants.*

*while no doubt bemoaning the continuing rise of international players. . . Wang, Rahm, etc.


First of many. Thanks for the questions, which in some cases are edited for brevity.

Samantha from Winnipeg: Federer or Nadal? SWilliams or VWilliams? Thoughts on the Australian more generally? Gotta love the tennis time machine. Back. From. Near. Death. I’ll be pulling for Rafa, but he has to be the underdog given the relative toughness of his semi-final match. Would LOVE to be there for that one, not just because Melbourne’s weather is a tad nicer than Oly’s right now. Same for the women, I’ll be pulling for big sis, but FiveThirtyEight probably has Serena’s chances of winning at about 90-92%. SWilliams is The Establishment. VWilliams represents change. Do upsets come in threes, Brexit, Celebrity President, VWilliams? Two others thoughts. First, if you’re a parent intent on raising a female professional tennis player, make sure your daughter is going to be at least 183cm and 68 kilos. Besides being taller and heavier than in the past, the women are ripped. Gone are the finesse days, it’s all power all the time. One thing hasn’t changed, still the sexiest sport outside of beach vball. Can I write that?

Fransisco from Stockton, CA: Most outlandish or worrisome thing Trump’s said or done so far? Actually, I have to give this week’s outlandish award to Fox New’s Lou Dobbs who said, and I kid you not, “President Trump has accomplished more in five days than President Obama did in eight years.” Fair and balanced. What were you doing watching Fox News. Looking for Megyn Kelly. Can I write that?

Priya from Hyderabad: Any movie recommendations? Last movie I saw was LaLaLand. I’m with Anzi Ansari on that one.

Other art suggestions? I highly doubt that this will be coming to Hyderabad anytime soon, but thanks to Lance calling in sick, last night the Good Wife and I went to “My Name is Rachel Corrie” in semi-sketchy, totally funky, downtown Olympia.

I recommend the one-woman, ninety minute, no intermission play. I think of it as a three-parter: 1) the spoken words taken from her diary, emails, and other writings; 2) the multimedia backdrop and minimalist staging; and 3) her actions. The writings were the first drafts of a very young woman, as a result, the many lengthy monologues didn’t move me nearly as much as the multimedia backdrop coupled with her radical selflessness. As a young woman she said she remembered one rule from her second grade teacher, a rule she thought we should apply throughout the world, “Everyone has the right to feel safe.” At age 23, she traded all her safety in for a modicum of Palestinian safety during the Second Intifada. She didn’t make it to 24. In the post play convo, one person said she died without accomplishing anything. That person is woefully unaware of the numerous, positive ripple effects of her short-lived life, starting with the Rachel Corrie Foundation.

Don from Marion, Ohio doesn’t have a question, but comments on the previous “Fact or Fiction?” post. Osnos is NOT punking you – those doomsday shelters are for real. Two millennia ago, Paul instructed the early Christians in Phillipia to”be anxious in nothing”. Similarly, Stoics pursue tranquility or inner joy of which contentment and gratitude are essential ingredients. This reporting is an incredibly convincing counter example to conventional wisdom about wealth. Most people work from the assumption that more money is more better. Is it possible to read that whole story and not conclude that when it comes to wealth, somewhere in the seven, eight, nine figures, there’s a serious point of diminishing returns? How much is enough? Excellent work by Osnos, made me ALMOST feel sorry for worried centi-millionaires and billionaires. 

Erin from Brainerd, MN. Why do people email you their mailbag questions instead of just leaving a comment? Dunno.

Future Posts

Democracy is alive and well in this corner of the interwebs.

Who would you like me to dialogue with next? What questions do you have for a possible “mailbag”? What topics would you like me to write more about.

Shape your humble blog by leaving a suggestion or question. Thanks in advance.

Thank You For Being Late—Buyer Beware

Excellent take down of Thomas Friedman’s newest NY Times best seller by Justin Peters of Slate.

Fav pgraph:

“Thank You for Being Late was put to bed well before the presidential election, and throughout the text Friedman makes occasional dismissive references to Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. (Ha ha, remember those clowns? Good thing technocratic rationality prevailed!) Near the end of the book, Friedman presents an earnest 18-point plan for governmental reform in the age of accelerations; a platform for the “Making the Future Work for Everybody” party, as he puts it. Thomas Friedman doesn’t know a damn thing about the future. Despite all of his self-serving rhetoric about necessities and inevitabilities, he still couldn’t recognize that Trumpism is in part a consequence of thought leadership, of rampant globalization with blithe disregard for its domestic casualties, of having your head jammed so far up the future’s ass that you’ve completely lost touch with the present.”

If you’re looking for something better to read, I recommend Hillbilly Elegy: Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by JD Vance. In this day and age, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that it has become a political beach ball, batted around by Republicans and Democrats to argue for conservative and liberal social and economic policies. It’s Vance’s story of growing up in a dysfunctional family in Kentucky and Ohio, two states I grew up in. Here’s an idea, you can’t tell a person their story is “wrong”. Yes, if you must, you can tell them the conclusions they draw from it are misguided, but how about waiting awhile.

Alibaba, can I count Hillbilly Elegy as a 2017 book if I started it in the final days of 2016? What do your “book list” rules say about that? I also just finished the sup short collection of essays by Oliver Sacks that you gave me for Christmas. Does the fact that I enjoy reading and thinking about how people approach the end of life mean I’m old? How ’bout waiting awhile to answer that.

I just started a bruiser, Empire of Things by Frank Trentmann. Hoping to finish before UCLA cuts down the nets in Phoenix and/or JSpieth birdies #12 at Augusta National on Sunday. Also hoping everyone forgets I’m reading this so no one asks how it’s coming. #toomuchpressure


The Ultimate Personal Finance Challenge

There are two types of investors, active and passive. Active investors are always educating themselves about personal finance; and paradoxically, tend to use passive funds, due to their lower fees and superior performance. In addition, they are purposeful in choosing a particular asset allocation and they monitor their progress regularly. They invest time and energy into increasing their wealth. I’m an active investor.

Passive investors, because they often think they’re not smart enough, often delegate to financial planners upon whom they depend for choosing particular investments and determining an asset allocation. Passive investors tend to end up with active funds with higher fees because they’re not paying very close attention.* They may not open their quarterly statements. Picture them falling asleep at the wheel of a semi-autonomous, financial planner driven car.

The most important thing I’ve learned in thirty years of investing is that there’s an undeniable point of diminishing returns when it comes to business smarts and investing success. Simply put, some of the most well-educated and successful business people I have ever known have made some of the worst investment decisions I have ever seen. And to add insult to injury, they’ve been unable to admit the error of their ways and reverse course. Too smart for their own good.

Personal finance research shows that once active investors master earning more than they spend, wire the difference into specific exchange traded funds monthly, and decide how best to balance bonds and stocks, additional trading detracts from their returns. Think of trading based on possible changes in the market as a “too smart for one’s own good” tax. Here’s one example.

Once you master earning more than you spend, wire the difference into specific exchange traded funds monthly, and decide how best to balance bonds and stocks, your ultimate personal finance challenge is doing nothing. Hence, consider my triumvirate of personal finance resolutions for 2017: 1) I will not be too smart for my own good. 2) I will not try to guess the market’s direction. 3) I will not trade. Or for the sake of additional research, you could guess and trade away and then we can compare returns in 11+ months.

* I hired an advisor in the early 1990s. Learned an expensive, but ultimately, invaluable lesson, no one cares nearly as much about your financial well-being as you do.

Paragraph to Ponder—Aging Academic Edition

From Leaving the Academic Stage by Robert Zaretsky.

According to a 2014 report and survey from TIAA-CREF, scarcely a fifth of workers in most professions are 55 or older. The one exception is higher education, where a full third of faculty members fall into that age cohort. That disparity, warns another study, will deepen with time: 60 percent of my colleagues intend to remain in the classroom when they pass 70, and 15 percent say they will hang on until they are 80.


Election 2016—Father-Daughter Dialogue 3

Alibaba: My last post was a theoretical exercise. In responding to your question I was not having an actual conversation with a Trump supporter. That – as I said in my answer – would of course include curiosity and listening and learning and new perspective.

But, to answer your question. Yeah, that phrase slipped past me and isn’t good. It didn’t capture a few things that I meant it to. 1. A broad, general sense, of “take a lot of action to make the world a better place, focusing on people who are systemically marginalized.” 2. That “vulnerable” doesn’t mean “people who can’t help themselves,” it means those who are structurally disenfranchised, subjugated, silenced, and that I am also talking about myself, as a woman, when I say “vulnerable people.” I feel like my rights are at risk and want to make sure they are protected. 3. That I think when the issue at hand does not relate to an identity I personally possess, it is important to look for and defer to people who do hold those identities. Cop out it may be, I do not think I have words better than these to describe this: “That is to say if you are able-bodied, if you have money, if you have resources, if you are seen as white, hetero, cis, if you have had the opportunity to develop your politics through theory rather than through forced violations against your body and your people, then take that backseat, offer a share of your resources to help organizers and activists travel and stay sheltered, protect and stand with communities you are not from, but do not take up space. Humbleness is what fuels a courageous fight that does not center you as savior.” -by Jenny Zhang in “Against Extinction”

And why do I think this is important? Because there are voices that have historically been ignored and there is a responsibility to do what we can to correct history and make them as loud as possible now. Because it would be arrogant and ignorant to think I know more about the lived experiences of someone else than they do, or what they want or need.

Now a few for you. What do you think the most important takeaways from the election are? In other words, what should we pay the most attention to going forward? 

Ron: Thoughtful reply, thank you. I’m sorry you think I don’t give you enough credit for being more savvy some/a lot of the time. When you communicate that frustration, I almost always think about my relationship with my dad. I get your frustration because I never felt like your grandfather gave me enough credit for being a capable, contributing, independent adult until I was in my mid-to-late 20’s. Too often, it felt like he was stuck viewing me as my dumbass sixteen year old self. I’m not sharing that for sympathy, or as an excuse not to be more caring, just to say I think some of your frustration is baked into the generation gap. Maybe everything will always be perfectly copacetic with your child(ren) and the pattern will be broken.

One take-away. I’ve written about the problems of the Simple Living movement before. It’s illogical for well-to-do people like me to tell the less well-to do about the limits of material wealth. My multi-layered, multi-facted privilege disqualifies me from commenting on anyone’s economic decision-making and lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean I can’t wax philosophic about larger, related questions. Which is to say, I interpret the election result as a culmination of a larger trend in the US where more and more people are slighting their health and spiritual well-being in the pursuit of material gain. Put more simply, it’s the triump of a self-regarding consumerism. Way more people than Dems expected put their trust in the candidate they perceived to be a superior businessman. The aformentioned Frontline documentary shows he’s a terrible businessman, but perception becomes reality. In essence, Trumpers said, “He’s such a great businessman, I’ll give him a pass on the hateful anti-immigrant, anti-women, anti-everything bullshit.” At the risk of simplifying things, I think Trumpers were saying, “Compared to HC, Trump will improve my job prospects, I’ll make more money, and be able to afford more stuff at my favorite big box store, so who cares about the environment, Muslim-Americans, traditional foreign alliances, or grabbing pussies.” In the battle between self-regarding personal economics and other-regarding American ideals, self-regarding personal economics has won.

The election may have turned on traditional Dems who succumbed to apathy and didn’t vote. Maybe they thought victory was in the bag, and turned off the game midway through the fourth quarter (you have to allow me one sports metaphor per reply) or the Democratic candidate didn’t rally them around the Common Good. HC was like a tennis player sitting well behind the baseline (okay, now I’m borrowing on the future), hitting desperate lobs, defending herself, criticizing her opponent, not rallying enough traditional Dems around the Common Good.

Pay attention to going forward? Short answer, Trump’s ego is such that he thinks the rules don’t apply to him. Look for him to play fast and lose with Constitutional principles related to the Executive and Supreme Court case law. I anticipate him breaking enough laws that he’ll lose the support of the Republican-controlled Congress. Even money he gets impeached before completing his term. One can hope.

More personally, getting out of the pool the other day, I asked a friend, older and faster than me, “Got any (Masters) meets coming up?” Normally, he’s competiting all the time, but he said, “No, I’m just too down. I’m going to give my meet money to the Sierra Club and Planned Parenthood who I know will make the most of it.” Admirable sure, but not my approach. I return to the Stoic notion of “trichotomy of control” in which you focus as much of your time/energy on those things we have some or a lot of control over. Swimming competitions gave my friend joy, so it saddens me he’s letting the Celebrity President rob him of that. I will continue to do the things that bring me joy, watch the sun rise, drink my green tea latte, eat healthily, swim across Ward Lake, run in Priest Point Park, cycle with friends, watch my daughter graduate college, dialogue with you, see independent films at the hippy theatre, and try to be a more attentive and caring educator, husband, father, citizen. I confess, over the last three decades, since I was your age, my strong desire to change the world has ebbed. I’m glad you want to and I do have confidence that your friends and you can, especially if fueled by Zhang’s “humbleness”. I want to change myself, be more kind, listen more patiently. The next election won’t turn on that, but my small sliver of the world—my marriage, my family, my community, will be better for it.