Changing the frame

Happy new year, readers. Like most people I set some New Year’s goals recently. A couple of them fall into the category of stretch goals. Both are seemingly hard tasks.

These goals are to run 2020 miles this year and to reduce my body weight to 172 pounds, which would put me in the normal range for my 5ft10.5in height.

When I first think about these goals, they seem almost impossible. Like most people, I perceive difficulty based on what’s normal for me.

But what would happen if I changed the frame of reference just slightly? It turns out that both goals fall within roughly 10 percent of what I already do.

In the case of running, I ran around 1870 miles in 2019. There were many fun adventures among those miles and many days I slacked off. It turns out I only need to up my miles by 8 percent to reach my stretch goal.

In the case of weight, I will need to lose about 21 pounds from my current weight of 193 pounds. I understand that BMI is not the best gauge of health, since it distorts the picture for athletic people with heavy muscles. But still, making it to the “normal” range is a good yardstick and goal. Here too, I’m roughly within 10 percent of my objective.

When I think about these goals outright, They seem arduous. Yeah if I simply ask myself the question “do you think you can do 10 percent more? ” The answer is yes. The first frame is likely futile and burn up willpower and lead to depression. The second frame perceives the same reality, but makes the task seem a lot simpler and more incremental.

I will check back on the schools from time to time throughout the year. Wish me luck. Hopefully I can enjoy going the extra 10 percent.

 

Fly fishing

Casting
Fly fishing on the Rose River in Virginia

Last year I took up fly fishing. The photo above is me and Duber Winters, a guide and Orvis store manager, casting into the Rose River. Duber helped me catch a rainbow trout on that chilly day in March–my first fish caught on a fly.

Though I shouldn’t say “my,” since I got so much help that day.

Another reason not to say “my” is a dawning realization that probably comes early in most angling careers: fly fishing is a vehicle for stepping outside of oneself and melding with nature.

The rush of water against the waders, the interplay of insects, branches, and rocks, and the imperative to mimic the dance of river life — in each of these ways, fly fishing brings the angler into a focused yet transcendent state of mind. It’s a practice that combines sport, artistry, and meditation.

No wonder fly-fishers have the reputation as being good ecological stewards while also being secretive and territorial. Cold and clean water + solitude = good. Global warming + too many anglers on the river = bad. For this reason, conscientious anglers possess an ethical code that helps nature and respects others.

In my day fishing with Duber, I got the strong sense that he guides and fishes with these values in mind.

 

 

On MLK, Jr. Day: Time Out from noxious news

Count me among the chorus of disapproval of President Trump’s reference to Nigeria and Haiti as “shithole countries,” and a preference for Norwegian immigrants-just a few days before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day no less.

When I think of Trump, I think there’s no hope. His racism and economic ignorance makes my blood pressure go up. Yet futile anger empowers no-one.

So I think a good way to celebrate MLK Day today is to take a time out from noxious news, tune out the distraction of the day, and start to visualize a better future as Dr. King would do.

All weekend I’ve been doing this. After looking at one too many news article on Friday, I’ve gone on a three day news fast. It’s been a great way to clear my head, which I believe more American citizens need to do more often.

An interesting thing happens on a news fast: other productive things to do start to come to mind. A couple of examples: this is the second blog post I’ve posted this weekend and over the past three days I’ve logged 28.2 miles. This morning I went over to Home Depot and bought some potting soil. My wife, daughter, and I then replanted two plants, breaking one of them up into two pots to make three plants. And so on..

Don’t get me wrong. As a former reporter, I am a strong proponent of a free and fierce journalistic estate capable of conducting in-depth investigations and informing public opinion. I pay for subscriptions to the Economist and The New York Times and other publications. Yet in a “resistance” type situation such as the one that currently grips the United States, we all need to pace ourselves, keep our minds healthy since there is a long slog ahead. What matters to me is seeing that democracy can ultimately correct itself with a clear view about who our leaders really are. I came to a conclusion about Trump long ago, and looking at more news about him just makes me sick.

So what would Dr. King do? I’m not sure. In fact, I must admit that there’s a lot more I could know about the rhetorical genius and organizational mastermind who did so much to advance racial equality in America. I mostly know him through his writing, which is on par with Abraham Lincoln for its poetry and moral power.

So there’s another thing I can do while not looking at the bogus commander in chief and his gang of pilferers: go to a library and check out a book on Dr. King. I’ll write more about it here when I do.

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr., Day! Respect to the man and his memory.

 

Pushing ahead in an era of distraction

As 2017 comes to a close, I realize that this blog has seriously fallen by the wayside. Chief among the reasons is undoubtedly distraction. I’ve never discussed politics much on this blog before, and this may be as poor a time to start as any, but I have to say it:America is going downhill fast under Donald Trump. I could go on about all the many flaws of our current Commander in Chief, but it’s not worth it. More gripes would just add to the problem. The modus operandi for celebrities is “any press is good press,” and the Trump presidency is an extreme manifestation of this.

The man just needs to trounced in election after election — first in the 2018 mid-terms, and then in the 2020 presidential election. I seriously hope decency in America can resurface in America to the extent that we one day discuss “the Trump era,” the way that folks in my parents’ generation (the boomers) discuss “the McCarthy era” or “the Watergate era.”

Meanwhile, thoughtful people who believe in civility and the possibility of reasonable policy-making just need to push forward.  Rather than being intimidated or distracted by the latest shiny object dropped into the news-cycle, Americans need to rebuild our crumbling society brick by brick. I may get into what that might entail in future posts — now that this blog has taken up what’s honestly on my mind.

 

Swensen’s plain and effective advice for individual investors gets lost in the guru mystique

The New York Times recent feature story about David Swensen, “The money management gospel of Yale’s endowment guru,” paints a picture of one of the hardest-working and most ethical institutional investors on the planet.

The article, however, fails to point out that the type of investing depicted in the article, with a palette of  hedge fund managers selected by a committee of astute market analysts, isn’t what Swensen would recommend for individual investors. For us, Swensen’s advice is far simpler.

Swensen’s book for everyday investors, Unconventional Success—not mentioned in the article, but covered by the Times back in 2005—is a cornerstone for understanding how to assemble a reasonable and low cost investment strategy.

Bogleheads has a good one-page summary of this strategy, which is one of the so-called “lazy” portfolios, since the investor can set it up and then tune-out market news. Once or twice a year, funds can be re-balanced by buying and selling holdings to their strategic allocation.

The allocation, in a nutshell, per Bogleheads, is:

  • US equity:  30%
  • Foreign developed equity: 15%
  • Emerging market equity: 5%
  • US REITS: 20%
  • US Treasury bonds: 15%
  • US TIPS: 15%

I follow this allocation for all of my investments, with one slight tweak. Since the Vanguard Total International Stock Index Fund contains a proportional amount of the word’s emerging market stocks, I invest 20% in that fund, which makes my investing that much simpler.

You can learn to put together this portfolio without reading the book, but the advantage of reading Swensen is the strategy begins to make sense. Each of the elements is there for a reason, and in concert these elements work together nicely (except perhaps in a market free-fall, where everything is losing value, but the only words that matter in that situation are ‘stay the course’). Since the allocation makes sense, it’s easier to stick to it.

This echoes Warren Buffet’s maxim not to invest in anything you cannot understand. Buffet, perhaps the word’s most successful investment manager, also unironically advises everyday investors to keep it simple by buying index funds.

Unconventional Success is also kind of fun to read if you can get past Swensen’s dry prose style and the formulaic (like class notes) way the chapters are structured. He is absolutely brilliant at skewering rip-off artists in the market, and he does so plainly with a certain vehemence I enjoy. You can see shades of this in the recent Times article when Swensen criticizes how the interplay of a hedge fund and a pharmaceutical company (Valeant) resulted in skyrocketing drug prices.

Although I wish the article contained a bit more education for the general reader, I welcomed its appearance nonetheless. Having read that Swensen’s been battling cancer for a few years, I wish him well. Our nation needs more wise teachers like him.