Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Literary Me

I had this awful realization:  I should be on a strict writer's diet.  I haven't been.  I've been reading whatever.  And far too little of it.

I love my book club.  I am committed to attending our gatherings each month.  I hope they don't mind if I stop reading the books.   

I won't read  Mark Twain.  I greatly admire him, but I don't want to encourage my own grouchy comic social commentary by saturating myself in his.  "Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect."--Twain

The bible is great literature.  I won't be reading that.  
"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God."     I'm pretty sure I'm already sanctimonious enough. 

I won't read War and Peace.  Don't have the attention span.  Besides, I already have way too many characters and points of view.  Who is my main character?  Beats the hell out of me. 
"We can know only that we know nothing.  And that is the highest degree of human wisdom." --Tolstoy

I could read E.B. White.  "I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world.  This makes it hard to plan the day."  I could definitely read E.B. White.

I could read James Baldwin.  "Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know that we cannot live within."   Well, maybe not.  I don't have enough moral authority, and I definitely don't need more.

 I could read  Milan Kundera.
"Dogs are our link to paradise. They don't know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring--it was peace."--Kundera.      Hey, wait a minute.  Didn't I write that?  

Could I, should I, read May Sarton?
"Does anything in nature despair except man? An animal with a foot caught in a trap does not seem to despair. It is too busy trying to survive. It is all closed in, to a kind of still, intense waiting. Is this a key? Keep busy with survival. Imitate the trees. Learn to lose in order to recover, and remember that nothing stays the same for long, not even pain, psychic pain. Sit it out. Let it all pass. Let it go."  May Sarton
Oh, I could, I should, I definitely would read May Sarton.

Doris Lessing? 
"I'm sure that everyone feels a kind of permanent anguish about what's going on in the world." -Doris Lessing     Such presumption!  I mean, yeah, duh; but still, such presumption!

I will be the literary me!   

Oh, no.  It's happening.  I'm turning into one of those awful people, aren't I.   Oh, God! 

That's okay.  Don't worry!  My overpopulated meditation on the meaning of life probably won't see the light of day--and that will make it all alright again.   I will get off my high horse and spend more time on on my rather low horse.  That wouldn't be such a bad thing.

Meanwhile, if you want me, I'll be listening to Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen, reading THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING, and sipping a cup of green tea.   

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Did I Say That!?

Observations and Surmisals


Smoke Screen Tent for a Generation  

"My son's curriculum is becoming increasingly reliant on Chrome books and the Internet; its content is, Mine craft-like, becoming more of a split screen, in which kids have their own section in the same world, i.e., individualized, but with the same hierarchy of learning goals." 
Errata:  I now think that Chrome Books or similar equipment is a valuable learning tool.  Josh's school is able to provide enough computers for every student in fourth grade.  They can work on their own at their own level, at their own pace.  They do this in conjunction with group learning and pencil-based work; in other words, the kids aren't using the computers for more than a fraction of the class time.  The computers are not used (in the way that video games are sometimes used at home) to babysit the kids.  They're just a terrific tool, and I'm all for them.

Things Could Be Worse, or, We Could Have Kittens

"It's hard for a mom to wish that on her child, bad teachers.  But maybe next year's teacher could be just a little tiny bit worse.  (Not very much worse--it's hard enough to get Josh to school consistently five to ten minutes late every morning.)" 
Errata:  I don't actually regret that Josh's fourth grade teachers are incredible.  I was planning to write an entire post about them, but there was a major story on it in this week's Oregon Observer.  They are doing an amazing job of recognizing and attending to the different learning styles of every "learner."  They have my unqualified respect and admiration.

Be Wary of Wishes that Make Everyone Queasy

Errata: Don't be wary of wishes that make everyone queasy.  Do what you gotta do.

What's Interesting About This?

Errata:  My take-away message from Steve Jobs (which is lost here) is Think different. Question, and be prepared to reject, the limits that society thrusts upon you.   

Getting Right to the Point. 

  • I stand by this, generally.  However, when managing $20k or less, be aware that it is more difficult to achieve the same level of diversity that you can get with larger amounts of money.  Or, if you do have diversity, then you may have relatively smaller returns (and potentially higher risk).  
  • The answer to this problem is to do more homework before investing.  The best thing you can do is to buy two or three really solid companies when their stock is VERY low.  This may take time.  Early to mid-Feb. is an excellent time to find bargains.  The entire buying season is behind you and spring is still a ways off; consumer activity is practically at a standstill.  Buy Ethan Allen or Whirlpool or Home Depot in advance of the real estate season (which begins in March).  Buy Target and Best Buy when they are friendless; they'll recover and thank you for it.  Buy Whole Foods in advance of the season of eating: Thanksgiving and the other food holidays.  Buy automobile makers when no one is buying cars.  And so forth.   
  • Another good strategy is to buy companies with great future growth potential.  FB. (Twitter.) Tesla.  DDD.  Nuance.  Activision.  Who will be making robots?  Who is designing the best game technology?   Many of these companies are still affordable stocks, not like Apple, Google, Amazon, Ebay, and Netflix.
  • At less volatile times when the economy is trending slowly upward, you will want to hold on to your best stocks longer.  During uncertain times of increased volatility, sell when you see double digit profits (10 percent, give or take).  Be sure to consider the individual stock's trends. Will that bird in the hand lay a golden egg, or fly the coop?  In a volatile market, it will probably fly.  In a stable market, it will probably lay an egg.
  • The win-win strategy is solid.  In an upwardly trending market, you still should have some cash on hand to make an opportunity out of a sudden downturn.  In a generally upward-trending market, you may want to keep 10-15% cash on hand.  In a highly volatile market, keep 30 - 50% cash on hand.  
  • Here is a way to free up cash besides selling your best-performing stocks.   In your portfolio, look at your stocks that are not doing well, particularly those stocks that have not been doing well for some time.  Click on the little + icon (assuming you use Fidelity, if use something else, there would be another way to do this) in front of the stock name to see when you bought that stock.  If you've been following my advice, you bought that stock in increments over time.  If the stock hasn't been doing well, then chances are you bought too high.  Compare what you paid for the stock in the first and second purchases to what the stock is currently worth.  You'll probably conclude that it will take a very long time for the stock to come back up to your original purchase price.  That would be correct.  So, sell the number of shares that you purchased at the higher price(s).  This won't affect your bottom line; remember, your bottom line is the current value of your portfolio.  So, you can look at this as a lateral move.  If you go through your portfolio, you'll find plenty of opportunities to sell increments of stock that you bought to high. This is also a good risk-avoidance practice, because those high-priced stock purchases are a liability--if for no other reason than they are tying up your cash and failing to make any money in a reasonable amount of time.  
    • The best time to do this is on a Friday, or any day when the market is up or flat--but Fridays are best, because chances are good that the market will be somewhat lower on Monday.  (Remember, as a general rule, buy early in the week and sell late in the week.)  
    • You can free up a lot of cash and make your portfolio less vulnerable to market downturns by doing this.  It might feel like you're taking a loss, but it's smarter than selling the goose that's laying the golden egg, or letting that cash stagnate.  
    • This is yet another way to benefit from admitting our mistakes and moving on!  

A Social Commentary Comment

Errata:  I stand by my comments with regard to the current approach to mental health.  I continue to think that the superficial and prescriptive approach of mental health services is comparable to the government's test-assessment-based approach to education.  However, I think that there are some very enlightened teachers among us who are making important new inroads.  One great example is the fourth grade teachers at Prairie View Elementary, here in Oregon, who are advancing a process that I applaud.  I continue to think that they need our support as parents in the classroom and at home, but I no longer feel that the system is broken (due to the ratio of teachers to students), as I did when I wrote this post.  

An Open Christmas Letter about Kitchens

Errata: The linoleum tiles were not genius, exactly.  We had to hire someone to put them in.  It took a long time.  It cost close to $1,000. by the time it was done.  And it is still not quite completely 100% done: There is some residual glue on it, which captures and holds dirt; and the floor needs to be thoroughly washed, waxed, and buffed.  So not genius!  It will look nice, but would I do it again?  Certainly not.

I've run out of time, but those were the main items that I wanted to address.  Life is about change.