Thursday, September 21, 2017

Loch Kelly

Loch Kelly is a spiritual teacher of the unaffected, down-to-earth sort. He's from the very interesting and little-known Dzogchen school of Buddhism. No ritual, no believing, no joining, no authority structure. Stripped bare, in other words.

Kelly has written a book that's one of the best Dzogchen resources in English, but it's flawed (like all of Kelly's stuff) by his verbosity and intellectualism. It takes effort to persevere through his prose, so he's not for everybody. Kelly's not for beginners; a lot of what he says will be gobbledygook for those without previous experience in this realm, but for others, he's uncommonly sincere and long as you're willing to parse his language.

Kelly recently announced a six week online course in "mindfulness". I recommend it because while Kelly is gifted at instilling a sense of expansiveness and coaxing people easily into a perceptual flip, that sort of thing greatly benefits from reinforcement/repetition. And this offers six sessions - in which you can even ask questions. And it's inexpensively priced (considering the rarity of the teaching - this is way deeper stuff than your average YouTube spiritual homily).

Sign up here. There's a "sample" available at the bottom of the page, which will help you determine whether his style of expression is a deal-killer.

Loch Kelly teaches under the aegis of a teacher named Adyashanti, who's pretty much the most solid and expressive English-language spiritual teacher of his generation (he was a Zen guy, but doesn't teach from any particular tradition). If Kelly isn't for you (and even if he is), Adyashanti is able to express things way more simply - though he doesn't offer much in the way of daily practice. If you'll take time to read this older interview, you may feel moved to seek out his videos and writings.

If you're looking for a simple, stripped-down, highly effective no-bullshit meditation practice, this is what I do - and have done for twelve years. Over the years, I've also gradually added this and this. I do not recommend the associated forum, retreats, etc. Just the core lessons.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

6% Profit, Very Low Risk

Apple is 6% off its recent high due to a connectivity issue with their new watches. Want to make an easy 6% profit (not bad at today's interest rates)? Buy the stock. Want to make a little more? Wait till it goes down further.

The stock market is populated by twitchy short term geniuses. So when there's a problem, the stock price must go down, whether it's an existential problem or a superficial one. With most (perhaps all) other companies, it's hard to distinguish. But not Apple.

If Apple is so rocked by this crappy little problem that it gives up its watch business entirely, and, for that matter, its computer business....and demolishes its brand new $5 billion campus and builds another one from scratch at twice that expense, and becomes a luxury yacht maker, and fails, and becomes a candy company, and fails, it can still buy Boeing and a couple other companies, and apply their superior talent and vision for success, all while maintaining at least a multi-tens-of-billions war chest to lean on for years as they ratchet up to speed.

Apple won't be dominant forever, but this watch issue will not be the death of them. Count on them springing back from this dip. I just can't tell you when. (Unlike the aforementioned twitchy geniuses, you and I have the patience to wait.)

As I noted earlier this year, upon selling most of my shares at $133 after the company had rebounded from its latest drift to the nineties for no substantial reason:
[Their $250 billion] "cash horde alone - which doesn't even do anything! - dwarfs the total market value of all but seven other corporations. Apple could throw their entire mega-successful business in the garbage and buy Starbucks, Boeing, and Goldman Sachs. If customers update their iPads more slowly than expected, or a phone antenna doesn't work properly, or a new product line undersells expectations, that's just not going to cause a death spiral."
I won't buy here, myself. I'm not a day trader. I don't like paying taxes on short term gains, and this seems like a quick blip. But if I'm wrong and this is the start of yet another months-long 30% Apple sell-off, that'd be great. Count me in (though I'll wait for it to drop way more)! I've made a good living with the past three sell-offs. But if you invest here, and it's a blip, you may have some extra Christmas money come December. Or, if it keeps falling, just forget about it until it hits the low hundreds and/or nineties, then buy more and go back to forgetting about it.

Either way, I'm confident you at least won't lose your shirt. Is it 100% certain that Apple will spring back all the way to $165? Nothing's 100% certain. But the company is not going bankrupt any time soon. So every dip, and every sell-off, is a buying opportunity.


Sympathy doesn't exist.

Empathy does exist. Empathy spurs action. It makes us help each other, solving problems. That's a thing! But sympathy - the static expression of emotional commiseration - is a phantom. Three unhealthy mechanisms are mistaken for this apocryphal "sympathy" thing:

1. Pity
" sucks to be you!"

Never helpful. Never pleasant.
2. Leverage
"I can see you're in pain. Let me make a display of saying and doing the sorts of time-tested cinematic things people do when they want to come off as sympathetic, so I can bank your gratitude and trust."

If you want to attract predators, indiscriminately project your vulnerability.

3. Reflected Schadenfreude
"Hearing your grueling story, I place myself in your shoes, and....YEESH."

You've shared your woes, asking someone to identify with them - to experience your anguish. But making people unhappy is not a healthy thing to want to do. If you watch them cringe (i.e. register "sympathy") and that makes you feel better, you need some garage time for major repairs.

I've experienced touches of this. There've been people in my life who, when I told them about bad things that had happened to me, would get agitated, and even lash out at me - just because they were perturbed and had no one else handy to unleash on. It was a backfire of my play for sympathy, and while my first instinct was to blame them for their "lack of support", I eventually saw that my intentions were twisted in the first place.

Some people may have the bandwidth to go through the motions of trying to soothe you, despite what you just put them through. But that doesn't change what you've done. If you feel better by making people unhappy, then you're the problem, not the victim.
In my early twenties, I believed that I was a rarity - a genuinely sympathetic person. But I discovered that people who seek sympathy are highly manipulative (again, feeling strengthened by making others unhappy is not healthy). If who're someone who aims to be helpful, you'll eventually learn not to submit to the will of control freaks, nor to bring vodka to alcoholics. You don't enable.

This was the same period when I began to recognize that people's "problems" usually turn out to be fake drama, anyway. That's why so few of us actually want our problems resolved (in fact, we often bitterly repel efforts at solution). What is more often sought is sympathy, not solution. Problems are treasured, because they confer a special power never enjoyed by the less flamboyantly burdened. Consider the many people whose proudest accomplishment is to be, say, a "cancer survivor" or "family of the victims". Victimhood nostalgia is not a resilient attitude. It's possible to fall in love with problems to the point where they become fundamental to one's very identity.

I'm no longer sympathetic (or whatever psychic glitch I'd confused with sympathy). Having largely stopped creating my own fake drama, I don't want to get entangled with anyone else's! I will, however, do whatever I can to help fix genuine problems (which are very rare in the First World). That's empathy, not sympathy. Up with empathy, down with "sympathy"!

Here's what all those "strong/silent" types are telling you: "If you don't want to work on fixing it, then I don't want to hear about it!"

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

I Want an Autonomous Camper

Here's where autonomous cars will hit very bigly: campers. This sector - which does not yet exist - will one day be a phenomenal investment for stockholders of whatever carmaker jumps into this.

Past a certain age, it's enormous strain to get yourself to an airport, onto a plane, and then reverse that process...with luggage. Shoot, that's a strain even for 35 year-olds! Same with trains or buses. Cars are easier, but you still have the long drives, the transfer to hotel, etc. Older people miss out because the overhead of going out and about becomes too much (anyone who's ever had the flu can relate!).

Here's what I want for my 75th birthday: an autonomously-driving camper. If I hear about a great breakfast place in Maine, I can get into my camper at midnight, crash in the back, and wake up in front of the place at 6 am. I can shop and sight-see without hassle, calling my vehicle back whenever I need it.

This will be awesome; the greatest lifestyle enhancement an elderly person could hope for. Really, it's shockingly anachronistic that such a huge swathe of our population barely participates in day-to-day life. With an autonomous camper, all you need to do is get yourself and your overnight bag out to the driveway, and, after a night's sleep, step off the curb and into your destination, while the camper parks itself. I could manage that even with a walker!

Older people are already famously into RVs, though they're clunky to drive and difficult to park. Remove those issues, and this would be a must-have. There will be 80 million elderly Americans by 2050. While not all will be able to afford an autonomous camper (though I suspect much car ownership will be replaced by spot-rentals from a fleet), I can't imagine even one of them not wanting this. Shoot, I'm only 54 and I'd buy an autonomous camper now in a second if it were affordable (and electric-powered, to avoid gasoline cost). For comparison, about 18 million new vehicles are sold annually in America. See the possibilities?

I'll be watching for it. This new electric motorhome covered with solar panels is a start, at least, but the field is still wide open. If Tesla's stock ever finally dips a little (I've been waiting since July), I might buy in on the mere chance they'll eventually think of doing this.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Cure Cancer, Kill Social Order

We appear to have turned a corner, where cures for many forms of cancer may finally be within sight. This is very bad news. I'm not sure humanity will survive it.

First, it helps to understand that "cancer" is another way of saying "dying of old age". If you don't develop actual disease (a heart attack, a stroke, flu, malaria, etc.), or get eaten by a lion, then, congratulations, you've won, and will live long enough to be taken down by the normal processes of old age, which usually involves tumors and other familiar signs of DNA break-down, like a calculator running on depleted batteries.

I'm talking about prevalent cancers, e.g. liver, prostate, etc. Rarer and earlier-onset forms of cancer are exceptional, and I'm certainly rooting - and contributing - for their cures ASAP.

Why is there so much cancer now? The Whole Foods crowd will attribute it to those nasty chemicals everywhere. But the actual reason is that many of us are finally living long enough to get cancer. And that's a win. Cancer's not a scourge. Mortality is the scourge, and cancer is a symptom.

Removing cancer from human society would change everything. We're well aware of the mounting problems of financial inequality, though it's seldom pointed out that it skews toward the elderly. Society counts on parents dying and passing stuff on. But that process has been seriously disrupted by people living into their 90s the way they once approached their 70s. That's like wedging in an entire generation gap, and meanwhile our inflation-adjusted income and standard of living have, for the first time ever, gone stagnant. There's less upward mobility in the workplace, college grads are listless and blocked, and it can't possibly be coincidence that so many 70 and 80 year olds are holding the reigns of control (Reagan was a shocking and precarious 70 when he took office, yet no one had serious trepidations about Trump and Clinton, both the same age).

We've messed with our churn, and curing cancer will mess with it way, way more. If, twenty years from now, 95 year olds hold on to their jobs and their assets, consider the fate of 70 year olds (much less 25 year olds), finding themselves caught in a half-century holding pattern, perhaps many of them still living in mom and dad's basement. The pitiful experience of England's Prince Charles may turn out to have foreshadowed a looming new normal.

Who knows; we might manage to shift our social norms to adjust to this radically different framework. But history shows that far less massive shifts can be enormously destabilizing. This is not good.

I touched upon a similar point in this posting from last year. Here's an excerpt:
You may have noticed some tension in our body politic these days, on both right and left. Income inequality is a huge, toxic problem, poisoning society in all sorts of ways. Same for power inequality. As the Olds enjoy greater and greater lock on both, and maintain that lock for longer and longer, there will come a tipping point when the imbalance becomes parsed in these terms. Youngs aren't going to like it. The energy and momentum of Occupy Wall Street, and the anger of Bernie and Trump's followers may be recalled as minor foreshadowings once a generation is clearly seen as refusing to step out of the way.

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Curse (Part 1)

In May of 2002, I was entering the excruciating final marathon stretch of my web site, Chowhound (as described in the first installment of this tale). Someone had offered to connect me with a wine industry mogul who might sponsor the site, so I'd flown to California, where it turned out that this had been an idle bluff (here's a lesson I wish I'd never learned: when life starts really crumbling, a very few angels arrive to help, but demons are also attracted, to rub salt in wounds for no perceivable reason).

This person needed to cover herself by manufacturing a reason not to present me to her big fish. It involved explaining to me what a terrible, awful, and undeserving person I am. So this woman - who I'd never previously met - went full throttle to deflect from her own awfulness, managing to press several buttons I hadn't even realized I had. This echoed a scene several months earlier when my girlfriend at the time manufactured a savage, hurtful fight so she could stomp off angrily as cover for a week-long vacation she'd scheduled with the guy she turned out to have been two-timing me with all along. Good times!

(I'm not insightful because I was born that way. I'm insightful because I've been through multiple ringers. If your computer keeps breaking, you will eventually become deeply expert at computers. By that token, I've learned some things about human behavior and associated mysteries via some rather expensive schooling!)

I'd spent a precious, irreplaceable $700 for absolutely nothing. But one reason I know I'm not a terrible, awful person is that in times of stress - and of inebriation - I only get friendlier. I'm a kindly drunk. And so I headed to one of my favorite beer temples, San Francisco's Toronado, still trembling, but smiling wanly as I entered and asked for a delicious half-pint of Drake's ale. The bartender asked me to repeat - I wanted a half pint? Yes, so I could try more beers! This is my favorite bar, and I don't get here often, and I want to try to catch up on the good stuff!

My beer was poured. I was served, and I tipped more than half the price the beer. I'm usually a good tipper, plus I over-compensate on bad days. I didn't want anything to go wrong here. Something inside me seemed to have broken, and I needed to hunker down and enjoy what there was to enjoy (resilience is my coping mechanism).

I ordered another half-pint of something else, the bartender served me with a detectable sneer, which I ignored, and I again received my glass like precious cargo and tipped an additional couple bucks. I drank blissfully, imagining myself to be radiating good vibes, relieved to have put a horrific scene behind me.

The third time, I was brought a full pint. I smilingly pointed out that I'd ordered a half. Woopsie!

"No, you really didn't" he replied. Taken aback, I reminded him that I'd been drinking half pints all along, and that I'd explained I'm from NYC and wanted to try as many local beers as possible.

"You ordered a full pint. And I'll charge you for a half, whatever. But I do not want to take any more bullshit from you tonight. I've had it with you."

All blood drained from my face, and I asked where I'd gone wrong. Was it my friendly demeanor? My grateful acceptance of the beer? Or maybe my excessive tipping? I wasn't challenging him; I truly wanted to know! But he couldn't find words. He just scowled and moved on to the next customer. I was one step from being thrown out of a bar. My favorite bar.

This was the beginning of a very strange, very painful period which I and a few friends would come to call "The Curse".

To be continued....

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Credit Due

When he does something good for the country, I'll applaud. It doesn't need to be "for the right reason" (though I see no indication that this is not). I'm not his priest/confessor, I'm an American who wants good policy.

So while the Right, in its hatred of Obama, raged whenever Obama did the things they'd previously said they wanted, I'm not going to do that. Hard though it is, I try to be consistent in spite of my biases, preferences and emotions.

So....Yay, DACA. Yay, humanitarianism. Yay, Trump. Full stop.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Hill

As I once wrote, in one of my favorite postings...
Around six years ago, I lost a bunch of weight, worked out (hard) daily, and, for the first time in my life, looked really good with my shirt off. And yet nothing changed. No one was the least bit nicer to me, women did not throw themselves at me, nothing in my life got detectably better!

Strangers treated me exactly the same; it turned out that people encounter lots of thin, reasonably muscular guys every day, and I was just another one of them. Crowds didn't gather to gape in astonishment.
I eventually gained back all the weight. This involved no orgies of pizza and barbecue, despite what you'd imagine from my protruding belly. Actually, I kept an austere diet the entire time. But my workouts grew spotty, so rather than losing a plodding 1/2 pound per week, I began gaining 1/4 pound per week. Not a big diff, but the trend's a killer. So I gained 35 pounds without having any fun at all. I looked like I'd let myself go, while eating like a freaking ascetic. Perfect!

It took two years to produce my app, "Eat Everywhere", the hardest task I've ever set myself. I didn't get much exercise during that time (focused commitment may be a great boon for creativity, but it does not lend itself to a balanced lifestyle). And while I enjoy a gym habit once I'm in it, the habit strikes for me as readily as wet matches. I can't hit the gym unless I've summoned some exuberance. Lacking that, I've been pretty inactive. Checkmate!

I live at the bottom of a hill. One day last month, I opened my door, and strode up the hill. And I've been doing likewise most nights. An hour of hill walking, which translates to 500 calories. I've already tightened my belt one notch. I walk up the hill, I lose weight, and I feel better. It feels like I've stumbled into a magical solution. I must be some sort of genius, to think of walking up a hill - the hill I'd lived on, and barely noticed, for five years while I wondered how to burn some calories!

To an idiot, the ridiculously obvious solution feels like pure brilliance.

It reminds me of the time I managed to work around the high expense of sticky notes via my discovery of glue).

The Equifax Crisis

Good non-panicky advice for handling the Equifax crisis. A must-read.

Monday, September 11, 2017


Shamelessness is a super power.

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