Maybe I’m Wrong

These days, when it comes to narcissism in the (dis)United States, maybe resistance is futile. Maybe I should go full-Trump and embrace myself even more fully.

And start a gofundme campaign. I have many legit needs that are definitely profound and kinda social if we’re being honest. For example, I’m running a little low on Christmas lights. Even more critical though, the Good Wife and I need to burnish our environmental credentials. Among our leafy friends, the Honda Pilot is a bad look.

So please help us buy a Rivian R1S SUV when it comes to market in late 2020. Read all about it here. Because I am not greedy, I am setting the target at the base MSRP price of $72,500. If your largess exceeds that, I will purchase roof racks, insurance, and electricity.

What do you get in return? The peace of mind that comes with knowing you have helped meet an unmet need of the fastest highest order. Thank you in advance.

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Go Fund Yourself

Narcissism takes many forms, some relatively subtle.

Like taking a perfectly good idea—direct person to person charitable giving—and ruining it.

Consider some scenarios:

  • Someone dies suddenly and the remaining partner is overwhelmed at the thought of providing for the children. He/she seeks funding for anticipated expenses including college tuition.
  • A non-profit seeks funding to buy tents for local, houseless men and women.
  • A land conservancy group seeks funding to buy and preserve even more environmentally fragile acreage.
  • A young man, from a family of limited means, seeks funding to study abroad.
  • A woman seeks funding to leave her job in order to be a professional triathlete.
  • A young woman is getting married abroad, but accidentally books the wrong tickets for two of her best friends. Now she “needs $1,200 to fix this mistake and encourages people to “Help spread the word!”

The first three, too legit to quit. The last three, distinctly illegit, well past time to quit.

For those still not clear on the difference between profound social needs and individual wants, here are eighteen more, cringeworthy, gofundme campaigns.

 

 

What Does Downtown Olympia’s Future Hold?

This could make a compelling documentary film.

Saturday night I attended an interesting five-person panel discussion at downtown Olympia’s hippy theater, a 94 year old building that shows independent movies, about the importance of cultural spaces in our fair city. The panelists were artists who spoke eloquently on the importance of the arts. One lived downtown and most worked there.

As an academic, it was glorious listening to one person after another actually honor their five minute time frame. Collectively, they stimulated my thinking not just about the arts, but about economic inequality, downtown development, and the future of these (dis)United States.

Here’s the conundrum. Olympia has long had a vibrant arts scene encompassing live music, allegedly more theatre seats per capita than any other 40,000 person city, murals galore, a vibrant farmers’ market, and well attended public art events. Many downtown buildings are historic, which the panelists all described as wonderfully unique and relatively affordable for artists to live and/or work in. The unique, historic, funky buildings they argued, are the very essence of downtown.

But lots of other more politically and socially conservative people in the surrounding burbs would describe the exact same buildings as run-down, gritty, and in need of serious investment. Some think downtown is too far gone, even unsafe, and avoid it altogether.

It was refreshing that downtown’s growing homeless population wasn’t mentioned once since it tends to dominate any discussion of downtown, but it’s one of the most common reasons some have soured on it. The focus was on low-income artists and others, but at some point obviously, the discussion has to expand to include the fate of the no-income walking wounded.

Meanwhile, in keeping with free-market capitalism, deep pocket developers eye downtown as a place to make money by flipping ancient, crumbling buildings that are too expensive to maintain. In some cases, by knocking them down and starting over, which of course enrages the art community and others of modest means. Shiny modern buildings mean higher rents, meaning low-income artists are priced out.

There are no easy answers on how best to move forward. The only thing I know for sure, the more voices that are heard before buildings are razed and rebuilt, the better. Make no mistake though, those voices will be wildly divergent.

I’m conflicted. Take the hippy, Capital Theater, as a point of reference. When a panelist “preached to the choir” by saying, “I’d much rather attend a movie at this theater than a neighboring multiplex,” the crowd applauded lustily. But all I could think was “I’d much rather attend a movie at the Grand Cinema in Tacoma, than at the Capital Theater.” Why? Because at the Grand Cinema (prices $8 matinee, $10.50 general; versus $8 and $9) I’m unlikely to tear my jeans on the springs in the seats as a Swedish friend of ours once did. And damn they’re uncomfortable.

Admittedly, I have a different sense of aesthetics than the typical Capital Theater member who is much younger than me and may live in a dorm with three other people at Evergreen State College. I appreciate historic, artistic, funky elements in buildings and downtowns, but I also like sitting in comfortable seats and not having to hope my timing is right for the one toilet.

Furthermore, new buildings, like new cars these days, are far safer. The future will bring tidal flooding and a major earthquake to downtown Olympia. Also, new buildings, like new home appliances these days, are also far more energy efficient. When well built, they also require far less maintenance, but even those cost savings aren’t enough to offset the land and building costs, which developers of course pass on to renters and/or customers.

There has to be a middle ground, I’m just not sure what it is. I do not think adding taxes to existing building regulations is politically viable, but could there be economic incentives for retrofitting and markedly improving old buildings instead of knocking them down? And what about a 1% add-on to require new building projects to include public art?

Ultimately, I suppose, the fate of downtown Olympia, and others, will come down to who is most successful in persuading the City Council to adopt modern building policies that somehow incorporate genuine respect for the city’s past. Even that though, won’t adequately address the concerns of downtown’s low-income residents.

 

 

Go Ahead, Refashion The World In Your Image

“I don’t shop at Walmart,” the lefty bumper sticker proudly proclaims. Congratulations I sarcastically think to myself, wake me when you convince ten working class families to do the same.

Similarly, I suppose, I deserve congratulations for having dropped my ballot in the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church ballot box last week, but I’d be far more impressed with myself if I convinced another person, or group of people, to vote the way I did.

Whether shopping or voting, I am one drop in ginormous buckets, but what if I tilt the buckets through persuading others to shop, vote, and think more like me? Easier said than done though, because to varying degrees, we’re all engaged in the art of persuasion.

Why are we so intent on getting others to shop, vote, think, and be like us? Because we’re so insecure? If that’s even partially correct, why are we so insecure? As long as I feel good about my daily decision making, why should I care whether others think and act similarly? Fortunately, we’re all different; consequently, what works for me, may not as well for others. And vice-versa. I want the autonomy to decide things mostly by myself, so why my impulse to influence others’ decision-making? Isn’t that a contradiction?

The ecologically minded among us would rightly say because the planet’s future depends upon it. But that reality doesn’t justify projecting all of our myriad beliefs upon others does it? It’s difficult to project our beliefs upon others without a certain arrogance that we know better than you where to shop, who to vote for, what lifestyle is best.

As I touched upon recently, the FIRE—Financial Independence Retire Early—Movement is having a moment. One of the main advocates is Pete Adeney who recently wrote a blog post titled “What Everybody is Getting Wrong About FIRE.” 

To which I wrote as a comment on his blog:

“. . . I don’t understand something fundamental to your thinking. Who cares? That Suze Orman and others hate the FIRE movement? That lots of people are critical of aspects of the Financial Independence Movement? That misperceptions abound? How do inaccuracies or flat out negativity effect you or other adherents of simple living? More generally, apart from the serious, negative ecological consequences of mindless materialism; who cares if someone chooses a long commute to a corporate cubicle? The stridency—everyone can and should follow our example to live better lives—almost harkens of evangelical Christianity. Or intense political partisanship—if only everyone was a Democrat or Republican like me. Every time I walk into the weight room, I see people with scary bad form, but that doesn’t mean I give them unsolicited advice on what to do differently to avoid injury. I totally get sitting around talking in-depth with close friends who are interested in all things financial independence, it’s the caring about what other people think and the proselytizing to the masses I don’t get.”

To which Adeney took issue in this return-of-serve:

“Do you really have to ask why I care about our society’s perception and adoption of these ideas I’m sharing?

I want them to SPREAD, and spread quickly. If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t be writing this blog.

I care, because every bit of pollution and pointless inefficiency and unhappiness hurts all of us. And the solution is so obvious and easy.

My own problems and those of my close friends are already solved. Once you have your own shit set up nicely, it’s a pretty natural instinct to turn outwards and try to help others. And it’s also hella rewarding.”

To which I replied a second time:

“No offense meant, but I do. Concern about pollution is admirable; but ‘efficiency’ and ‘happiness’ are relative terms. That’s why social scientists use the term ‘subjective well being’. If the ideas were truly ‘obvious and easy’ financially independent minimalists wouldn’t be a distinct minority.”

To which another reader replied:

“Maybe you SHOULD help your fellow lifters out with unsolicited advice, before they blow out a knee or herniate a disc. They might even be grateful for your thoughtful intervention (like I am economically, with this particular blog here.)”

Adeney is beloved by his millions of readers, so I’ll always get pillared for daring to do anything but completely agree with him. His blog’s comment section, an echo chamber, is boring, but I digress.

In some ways, the weight room hypothetical is the heart of the matter. There is a middle ground, an alternative to my decision to not offer unsolicited advice and the reader’s suggestion to do exactly the opposite. And that is to offer a compelling enough example—through specialized knowledge, kindness, and care that eventually, some people will ASK for input.

  • How can I improve my finances? How can I save more? How should I invest?
  • How can I build strength without injuring myself? How should I train for a marathon?
  • What do you think about Candidate X? Initiative Y? Why?

Go forth and set compelling examples. And refashion the world in your image one inquisitive person at a time.

Car For Sale—$6 Million

We own three cars. Combined, they have about 260,000 miles on them, meaning they have lots of life left. If we sold all three today, we’d have somewhere around $35k to invest in alternative transpo like this. Tempting at times.

Most mornings I skim the Bogleheads forum, an excellent online community of mostly Vanguard-based investors. Today, I came across a post titled “Novice question” by “Oldman”. Here are his opening sentences:

“I am an 82 year old, fairly healthy, happily married, with one son (gainfully employed) and two grandsons in high school. I have no experience in this investing game. My home is mortgage free, we have lived within our means on my pension and social security income of about $108,000 annually. My life insurance policy is worth $72,000. A very recent car sale has put almost $3 million in my bank account after the tax hits.”

Unsurprisingly, the last sentence left many readers perplexed. One joked that it must have been a Ferrari. He was right. Sale price, somewhere between $5.5 and $7m.

It’s a very cool story that began with a large and questionable financial risk. It’s also about teaching one’s self auto mechanics and passion for auto history and aesthetics.

In the video, the Admiral explains he didn’t buy it as an investment and never really thought of it as one until more recently. Still though, what a lesson in buying and holding. And for taking care of your stuff. I like everything about the story.

Wonder what our 2006 Honda Civic hybrid will fetch in 46 years?

Postscript: If a twenty-something were to invest in a consumer product for 58 years, in the hope of making more money than they would investing in the S&P 500, what would be some options? An AppleWatch Series 4? A Tesla? A Boosted electric skateboard?

Weekend Assorted Links

1. Everything you think you know about obesity is wrong. So damn substantive, I should probably just stop here. A must read for anyone interested in being a more intelligent, caring human being. Here’s some context:

“About 40 years ago, Americans started getting much larger. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 80 percent of adults and about one-third of children now meet the clinical definition of overweight or obese. More Americans live with “extreme obesity“ than with breast cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and HIV put together.

And the medical community’s primary response to this shift has been to blame fat people for being fat. Obesity, we are told, is a personal failing that strains our health care system, shrinks our GDP and saps our military strength. It is also an excuse to bully fat people in one sentence and then inform them in the next that you are doing it for their own good. That’s why the fear of becoming fat, or staying that way, drives Americans to spend more on dieting every year than we spend on video games or movies. Forty-five percent of adults say they’re preoccupied with their weight some or all of the time—an 11-point rise since 1990. Nearly half of 3- to 6- year old girls say they worry about being fat.

The emotional costs are incalculable.”

2. This cult comes highly recommended. I count myself a member. The top reader comments are equally interesting.

3. HOW award—headline of the week. With each tweet, Kavanaugh’s chances lessen. Please keep tweeting.

4. Can Ethiopia’s new leader, a political insider, change it from the inside out? Great opening:

“On the morning of his first day of school, when he was 7, Abiy Ahmed heard his mother whispering into his ears.

‘You’re unique, my son,’ he recalled her saying. ‘You will end up in the palace. So when you go to school, bear in mind that one day you’ll be someone which will serve the nation.’

With that preposterous prophesy for a boy growing up in a house without electricity in a tiny Ethiopian village, she kissed him on his head and sent him on his way.”

5. Jon M. Chu, who directed Crazy Rich Asians, shot a short film entirely on an iPhone XMax. Which greatly impressed John Gruber:

“The democratization of professional quality video cameras for filmmaking is one of the great technical achievements of the last two decades. 20 years ago you’d have had to spend thousands of dollars on film to make a short movie that looks this good.”

6. It’s often difficult to pick a major (concentration of study) in college. Here’s a new option that will likely prove popular.

Apple Will Get You To Open Your Wallet

Despite the new Apple Watch Series 4’s central features—a built in EKG and “fall detection”—being designed for aging Baby Boomers who may not be able to use it without their grandchildren’s help, the marketing skews young, urban, global, and very creative and good. The bifurcated approach to design and selling is interesting. Go ahead and criticize the high prices for the incremental improvements in hardware, but give Apple’s advertising team credit for continued brilliance.