Millennial Meditations (1/3)

Table of Contents

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Growing Pains

Parenting Paradox

Forgive Thy Parents

The Simple Things

Budding Buddhist

Who am I? 

Education

Soft Bed, Weak Spirit

Point and Laugh at the Losers

Cold War Curriculum

Second Grade Spelling Test

Falo um Pouco

Work-life Imbalance and

Stackin’ Bread

Clock Out, Knockout

All Play, No Work

Idealism

Onlookers Won’t Know the Difference

Network or Die

False Friendships

Close Ties Marketing Strategy

Ten Thousand Hours

Burn ‘Em and Churn ‘Em

What do Black Swans and Fragility Have in Common?

Don’t use Dog/Human Feces for Fertilizer

Reverse Budgeting

Quick Stock Tips from One Up on Wall Street by Peter Lynch

An Aside on the Bay Area

Boxer’s Burden

Soul Searching

Vacilando

Tourism vs. Traveling

Traveling Through Japan

Day 1: Kyoto Bound

Day 2: Journey to the Philosopher’s Path

Day 3: Bamboo Bliss

Day 4: Attack of the Deer

Day 5: Electoral Apathy

Day 6: Spiritual Compensation

Addiction, Anxiety, and Drugs

(Beginning of MM 2/3)

Roll it Up, Rationalize Later

What Came First, Addiction or Nihilism?

The Nightmare Knight

Death’s Touch

Gun’s, Birds, and Lead

Filling the Void

Psychological Inspection

Contentment Syllogism

Silent Mountain

Coping

A Few Inches Off the Top

Bay Area Mycology Meeting

Maintenance

Just Keep Moving, and Avoid the Middle of the Market

A Pinch Goes a Long Way

Collectivism vs. Individualism

Libertarian’s Hero

Shedding Wool

A Little Now, or A Lot Later?

On Collectivism

Unconscious Spending

Giving and Receiving

Selfless Sam

Media and Communication

(Beginning of MM 3/3)

Fallacies and Mental Models

Information Overload

TMI

Apollo Plantae

Descriptive vs. Prescriptive

It Doesn’t Hurt

Agape y Frappes

Self-Care

My Earliest Memory

Synecdoche

Regression to the Mean

‘Tis Nobler to Allow Suffering for Cheap Smartphones?

Ode to The Judge

Lost Bug?

Paul the Polymath

Utilitarian Utopia

Poder para as Pessoas

Reading and Writing

Linearity is Limiting

Ineffable

Out of Mind, On the Page

Art: Combine and Contrast

What?

Nature and Philosophy

Overlooked

Small Acts Add Up

Moral Erosion

Cocksure

Far From Now

Conclusion

Relevant Quotes

Pretentious Vocabulary


Introduction

Smoke is billowing from the side of a skyscraper against a cloudless, light blue sky; a plane is flying toward the adjacent tower.

*BOOM*

Holy shit!

It says the incident is in New York — an unfathomable distance from my house in California. I grab my backpack and head out the door with my Dad to go to class (fourth grade). After settling in, the teacher begins talking (I sense trepidation in her voice); she tells us we’ve been attacked, thousands are dead, and Bruce Willis is nowhere in sight to save the day (Die Hard, 1998). The teacher lets us ask questions, then releases us to go home early.

When I get home, I walk into my Mom’s room; she’s standing in front of the TV — President Bush is speaking before a crowd, “They want to create weapons of mass destruction … Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda will pay for what they’ve done.” 

Apparently this battle started in 1990, during a desert storm; two years before the light hit my eyes. The feud has produced piles of desecrated Muslims and Americans alike, but the statistics say our kill ratio is better, so I guess we’re winning


 

In 2019, 9/11 firefighters were begging for proper medical attention; apparently eighteen years is long enough to overlook the sacrifices made in response to the deadliest homeland attack in my lifetime. As far as national heroes are concerned, I would put the 9/11 responders toward the top; I mean, did you see how much fucking smoke was pouring out of those buildings? People were jumping to their death to escape the flames and toxic fumes … I’ve never envied public service personnel.

And yet, despite the firefighter’s valiant efforts, the lobbyists and moneybags couldn’t find the appropriate incentive to coax our politicians into protecting those who risked their lives for the sake of others. Eventually, Congress drug out the emaciated former NYPD Detective Luis Alvarez to an apathetic, stuffy congressional hearing (he succumbed to his 9/11 induced cancer three days later). Then, John Stewart stood before the panel, pleading and exasperated with teary-eyed frustration — and Congress acquiesced. 

In addition to our nation’s lackluster support of service personnel and veterans, we habitually scapegoat Muslims and immigrants. But, they can hardly be blamed for the rise in carbon emissions, the depletion of our planet’s natural resources, and the 23 trillion dollar national debt ($23,000,000,000,000). Then, if things aren’t bad enough, increase the global population from seven billion to nine billion by 2050; toss in some ignorance and hubris; shake it up; and any rational individual should be panic-stricken. I’ve contemplated retreating to the woods like Emerson’s hermit, but not before I share my thoughts. 

My approach to life and learning is best captured by David Foster Wallace’s Kenyon College commencement speech, “This is Water,” 

“To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. I have learned this the hard way, as I predict you graduates will, too.”

I owe Mr. Wallace a massive debt, and through this writing, I hope to honor the many wise individuals who’ve committed their lives to pursuing truth [I use several iterations of ‘truth’ throughout this writing. The first, truth (no quotations) is referring to an objective or empirical truth, which can be tested and replicated scientifically (e.g., 2+2=4). The next “truth” is subjective—varying from person to person (e.g., meditation is the best mindfulness practice). Then there’s Truth (capitalized), which is referring to a metaphysical Truth that can’t be studied empirically (e.g., God is real or God is not real). Finally, there’s truth (italicized) for the moments when my brain breaks from trying to define truth.].  

A common theme throughout this writing involves our species’ obsession with dichotomies—which has produced perverse forms of tribalism—labeling individuals as “us’s” and “them’s.” But, I believe we can override these natural tendencies through education and heaping loads of kindness. 

After spending the past decade of my life diligently reading and researching, I finally understand what the history teachers were talking about when they said, “We study history to avoid the mistakes of our past.” But, every answer produces another question, and eventually, we replicate the mistakes of our ancestors in novel ways. As the French say, “c’est la vie.”

Growing Pains

Parenting Paradox

Expanding fields of study have exponentially complicated the parental role. Centuries ago, raising a child to teenage years was perceived as phenomenal care-giving. Now, a child growing up in the twenty-first century needs to understand the internet and smartphone technologies, to compete in the corporate job market. Social media, like Facebook and its subsidiaries, are here to stay; they appeal to the younger generations, then simplify, to take in a broader audience. 

Marketing—especially tech marketing—has reached its zenith. The amount of sensory stimuli has reached unprecedented heights and the lasting effects haven’t been realized. The ubiquitous nature of marketing has desensitized Gen Y (1980-1994), but spending habits suggest that brands still hold weight among certain social circles, forcing marketers to target specific segments of the population. Parents need to communicate the underlying messages of marketing (e.g., sex, status, and security) to prepare their children for the media barrage onslaught. Additionally, the brands a parent chooses to envelop their child with will influence which tribe(s) they associate with.

Communicating the truth in this era is challenging. Biology and psychology (cognitive sciences are infantile as of this writing) have irrefutable evidence regarding the development and resilience of our species. Where science has established “factual” precedent (climate change is real …), the burden falls on parents to ensure that their child receives accurate information regarding their biological and environmental composition. Life, like a sport, has rules and limitations. Succeeding in life or any game will require a basic understanding of the rules, and then proper training to execute specific tasks effectively (e.g., nutrition, exercise, psycho-social health).

A parenting paradox results from complexity and forecasting biases. Forecasting biases occurs when there are consistent differences between actual outcomes and previously generated forecasts of those quantities; that is: forecasts may have a general tendency to be too high or too low. 

In an effort to prepare a child for the future, the parent is forced to make decisions based on incomplete information. The parent will draw from experiences during their upbringing and fill holes with whatever the current literature dictates. For example, when an individual who experienced abuse from an alcoholic parent talks to their child about drinking (the grandchild of the abuser), they will probably steer them away from alcohol. However, while enforcing abstinence, the child might rebel against the parent, consume alcohol, and then begin a journey down a dark path.Therefore, behavior that a parent tries to strictly enforce runs the risk of a boomerang effect (unintended consequences of an attempt to persuade, resulting in the adoption of an opposing position). Everyone knows that parenting is an imperfect art, but from a rational standpoint, parenting appears to be mostly luck. The future is destined for increased complexity—focusing on building resilience and robust decision making processes is the most we can hope for from parents—specific decisions regarding which language to learn; instrument to practice; or sport to play; is best left to the child.

Forgive Thy Parents

Forgive them for their faults;

life’s too short—toss some salt.

Dirty kitchen mysteries;

clean them up, it’s history.

 

Ungrateful punks—given rations;

born into the greatest nation.

I should write or give a call;

no one’s innocent in The Fall

The Simple Things

A summary of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s, “Self Reliance”: Step away from society, peer expectations, and external satisfaction. Truth will be found within. Disregard conventions—look inwards for answers. Peace and happiness can only be satisfied by the self—not material gain or sense exposure. Pray or meditate, there is unfathomable wisdom in emptiness. In ignorance and absence lies truth, untouched by foreign faculties. Any attempt to control external objects (organic or mechanical) will lead to madness. Focus on thyself, subordinate all else.

Emerson and Thoreau had a lot of spare time on their hands, so it’s easy for them to give advice on self reliance. However, time has become an increasingly scarce resource in the twenty-first century. A lot of adulthood is monotonous, and requires routines to optimize the day. The following list won’t solve all of life’s problems, but individuals who practice most of the following suggestions often appear more productive and satisfied. Some of the items, like exercise and living in the present moment will take months to implement, and most people fail before they ever begin because they’re overwhelmed; start with achievable goals..

  1. If you commit, deliver (no one likes a flake)
  2. Talk is cheap (act more and talk less)
  3. Show up on time (to work, meetings, and hang outs)
  4. Don’t buy frivolous things (scrutinize all spending habits)
  5. Pay bills on time (never pay unneeded interest or overdraft charges)
  6. Keep track of possessions (losing stuff is lost money)
  7. Don’t attach to material possessions (they will enslave you)
  8. Find a great book (DMV coping mechanism)
  9. Practice living in silence (time to introspect and reflect)
  10. Keep things organized and in their “proper” place (with the exception of creative spaces)
  11. Clean up after yourself (help others too)
  12. Set your external appearance to happy (smiles are infectious)
  13. Exercise and eat healthy (physical and psychological health)
  14. Don’t take more than your fair share (practice moderation)
  15. Listen attentively (pay attention to your internal monologue and silence it when others are speaking)
  16. Live in the present moment (this includes avoiding drugs, video games, and distracted thoughts; anything that drastically alters behavior)

Budding Buddhist

When enrolling at San Diego State University (SDSU), I envisioned classrooms filled with ambitious and brilliant students, but I quickly realized how wrong my assumptions were. I was amongst thousands of lifelong underachievers—classrooms morphed into the same vacant spaces I experienced in high school. After the first week, attendance dropped drastically, and the few who remained were there reluctantly.

I lived in the dorms with seven guys whom I didn’t know—and I was struggling to establish rapport.  In high school, I had tons of friends, and I felt respected amongst my peers, but the transition from the Bay Area to San Diego was jarring. People from southern California (socal) despised my affinity for the word “hella.”

I perceived an ever-widening chasm forming between the occupants. The socal fraternity guys were on one end, and the stoners were on the other. Then, there was Jose and I, who didn’t fit into either of these categories. I didn’t smoke (yet), skate, or join a fraternity.  Jose and I were black sheep. To make matters worse, I had my first experience with someone who habitually blacked out and raided the communal freezer to appease his insatiable appetite. I lost countless meals to his antics, and when I confronted him, he said, “Sorry bro, I was blacked out.”

These social schisms in conjunction with a lackluster academic experience cast a shadow over my supposed “glory days.” I locked myself in my room, played games, completed assignments, and stormed out on the weekends to anywhere with something to drink. I’m not sure what depression is, but I know this was the closest I ever came to experiencing anything like it. My patience was at an all time low. My temper: incendiary. It got to the point where I needed to fly home on random weekends; to cool off and gather my senses. If I couldn’t find some way of alleviating the stress from my living situation, I would drop out or find some means of extricating myself. Then, I heard about meditation in philosophy class, so I gave it a shot. 

I turned the lights off in my room, climbed onto my bed, crossed my legs, and closed my eyes. Then, I experienced the flow of my thoughts. I sat with them—confronted them. There was nowhere to flee to, and nothing to distract me. For the first time in my life, I felt my thoughts burning inside—consuming me. 

Meditation helped me evaluate my neuroses; creating space to forgive those who caused me pain. Call it meditation, prayer, or quiet introspection—the name doesn’t matter, and there’s no right way.

Who am I?

In Rupert Spira’s, The Nature of Consciousness, he presents meditation and prayer as paths to awareness; unobjective (nonsubjective) experience; a forgetting of “I am” and a return to omni-awareness: the vacuum from which everything forms, the silence from which sounds emit, and the spaces that separate words to form sentences.  Society makes us define who we are; brother, son, spouse. In order to reach higher insights, we have to leave behind everything we think we know. Knowledge is our greatest burden—strive for understanding. Knowledge is ephemeral—understanding is solid, immoveable. There are only a few things worth understanding, and we arrive at these conclusions through forgetting. For now, be wary of new things (books, technology, and diets in particular).

Education

Soft Bed, Weak Spirit

As time passes, I forget the earliest lessons taught to me by family and friends. There arises a naive notion of individual accomplishment. The truth is, the seeds of knowledge were planted and nurtured long ago, but as Americans, we prize individual achievements, allowing us to overlook the accomplishments of the collective. While standing upon the shoulders of giants, we mistake ourselves for the giant. As we reach adulthood, we lose respect for the wisdom of our ancestors, and fool ourselves into elevating our knowledge above the elders. If we return to our roots when lost, and water them, we will reap what we thought was lost. 

Any species subjected to over abundance will weaken. Comforts allow us to forget thousands of years of evolutionary toil—hard conditions strengthen us—up to a breaking point (e.g., injury). It takes ten thousand hours to master a craft … time doesn’t stop ticking.

Point and Laugh at the Losers

As soon as I tasted defeat, I vowed to do everything in my power to avoid it. Winners get gold, second-place silver, and third gets a worthless metal. First stands on the highest podium, followed by second and third in descending order. The winner gets interviews, sponsorships, and an invitation to the White House. Winners write the history. 

In the United States, we’re results driven—constantly monitoring our output—more specifically, recent output, “What have you done for me lately?” Millions of people gather in stadiums around the country to watch men crush their skulls while kicking and throwing a leather-bound banana—and businesses create tribal environments—demonizing their opponents to bolster morale. The list of competitions is limitless, some are infinite and others are finite, rewards may vary, but one constant remains; you must win. 

Losers are laughed at and left to pout in the locker room following a humiliating defeat. Losers have to listen to lectures about why they lost, and what they can do better next time. Meanwhile, the winners are celebrating and reaping the rewards of their labors. 

We should learn from the Mongols and Romans, who constantly sought growth and expansion. Eventually, their empires grew too vast, and factions arose from within—slowly eroding and infecting the kingdoms like cancer. When a leader shows weakness, second or third place will attempt to capitalize on the opportunity to usurp them. Be prepared.

Cold War Curriculum

I was a substitute teacher for one day, and following my experience of handing out papers, and kicking back while the students worked, I determined we’d be better off letting them roam wild. I don’t agree with inundating kids with paperwork under the auspices of learning.

Teachers are in charge of preparing future generations for success, yet in the US, we drastically underpay them, and provide a restrictive curriculum (hence private schools). Public schools allow the top kids to advance toward more prestigious pursuits, while the lower majority are destined for a life of monotony. Our systems need to give students and parents the latitude to choose the appropriate educational path(s)—there are tons of trades and innovative companies which can provide kids with different settings for education.

History class is particularly weak in regards to the scope and breadth of the subject matter. I’d much rather have held a magnifying glass to the 15th century renaissance, studying Da Vinci and Machiavelli, as opposed to several classes on US history. In order to increase retention, classes should reflect the interests of the student; e.g., a student interested in agriculture might delve into the Incas use of the Andes for potato farming. Our Cold War curriculum won’t suffice for the highly specialized future. Leave breadth to Google and make school about depth and creativity.

We’re unwittingly steering kids away from technical skills and sciences because we’re adamant about keeping them busy. If there’s a park next to my children’s school, I hope they leave class when a substitute teacher is there and wander amongst the trees. I want my kid to be naturally curious, and overlook the structures of society. Please, cut it out with the paperwork.

Second Grade Spelling Test

1. Penguin

Cheating made sense to me in my youth, especially for schoolwork that I didn’t want to do; but when learning something, the process and meaningful training is vitally important; and cheating subverts the more arduous aspects of learning, like learning to spell penguin. 

The problem with cheating isn’t the specific instances of cheating, but rather the expectation of getting more with less. In college, I had a professor who said, “Cheating deprives you of your true potential.” When I started cheating, I wanted the results, but I overlooked the means of achievement. I thought school was about getting good grades, regardless of the methodology. In most instances, I was studious and did my homework, but occasionally, I would forget to study for a Spanish quiz, and so I would conveniently leave my book open. 

Cheating destroys the foundational principles of learning. In the case of learning Spanish, cheating allowed me to avoid difficult definitions and conjugations. I wasn’t planning on taking higher levels of Spanish, so I figured it wasn’t a big deal. Then college came, and I needed three semesters of a foreign language. I signed up for Spanish 102, the second lowest Spanish course. The first day of class, I got to the room early and chose a seat near the middle, but slightly off-center; the teacher came in, set her stuff down, and faced us.

“Bienvenidos chicos. Me llamo Profesora … y esta clase se impartirá solo en español.”

I felt uncomfortable and lost like a child in the supermarket. I scanned my surroundings to see if my peers shared my anxiety, but they appeared unperturbed. I wandered around campus in a daze for the next couple hours; then I went home; logged into my class selection portal; and transferred. Having to start from the beginning didn’t bother me at the time, but now, when I try to communicate in  Spanish; words swirl inside my head, but not in the proper order, and I’ve all but given up on conjugating. After pleasantries are exchanged, every conversation leads to, “Como se dice …?”

Also, I misspelled pengiun penguin two times at the beginning of this section (more of a mechanical error, but still). 

Whether it’s learning a new language or playing a sport, cheating creates gaps in knowledge; and the gaps will be exposed when communicating or playing against a higher level opponent. I wish I could go back in time and study, instead of cheat, so I could effectively communicate and experience Spanish-speaking cultures.

Falo um Pouco

I’ve gained a new respect for languages while concurrently reading Dom Casmurro by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis in Portuguese and English. One page takes me roughly thirty minutes. I read the Portuguese, then the English, Portuguese again, and then translate and transcribe the unknown palavras (tedious is an understatement). 

I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m enjoying the journey.  As long as I follow my passions, I’ll never be bored. Confusion and bewilderment are the beasts of a cluttered mind. If impediments are removed, life will flow. However all of my sitting and slouching has left me with agonizing back pain. I would trade several of the books I’ve read for a moment of comfort. Alas, the path cannot be retracted.

All Play, No Work

Punctuality, ambition, and determination are scarce qualities among my peers. Maybe it has always been this way, but I never experienced this from my parents. They would rise early, work till exhausted, go to sleep, and do it again the next day. My father is nearly sixty-seven years old, diabetic, and has suffered from two cardiac events; yet he’ll still outwork most of my peers. He frequently says, It doesn’t matter what kind of work you do, but it does matter how you do it.

I don’t know what happened to the pride and satisfaction following a hard days work. Part of it has to do with stigmatizing certain occupations (e.g., restaurants and sales), and another important component is the expansion of companies into conglomerates and global giants (e.g., Berkshire Hathaway and 3G Capital). These massive companies have desensitized employees and created atmospheres of alienation — reducing individual’s to infinitesimal specks of dust; and hierarchical layers have turned organizational charts into something akin to a map of the galaxy — resulting in a fuzzy and itchy sensation at the forefront of employee’s brains. 

Companies used to give stocks and share profits, but once the headcount gets into the thousands, you can expect the perks to taper off. Even companies like Google struggle to incentivize their workforce. Then, once a company has expanded exponentially, there’s the impossible challenge of defining roles and reducing entropy. Silicon Valley tries to accommodate this massive growth by encouraging employees to be “entrepreneurial,” which basically means, take care of your shit, and then do some more work, but results vary. Companies want individuals to feel responsible for their work, and garner satisfaction from their accomplishments, but when asked, “How do you like your job?” most recoil and roll their eyes. 

Millennials catch a lot of flack for being entitled, and there’s some truth to the claim. Watching Gates, Zuckerberg, and Jobs drop out of college and become billionaires created a lot of false expectations. Some of my peers think a minimal amount of effort should be rewarded. Practice and respect for processes have been supplanted by a “make an app and get rich quick” mentality (I know firsthand). 

Success requires hard work. The real producers rise early, take care of themselves, value their time, and grind away. Eventually they produce something amazing; even if it wasn’t what they expected. Elon Musk is a lot of things, but no one will call him a slacker. He has foregone sleep and peace of mind to build his empires. There are brilliant people working with him too, but few who will outwork him.

Idealism

“Work at a job, contribute to society” 

Commute for digits in an account; 

desk chains clang—clouds pass by. 

Satiate the litany of life-fulfilling activities; 

crawl each day for the dangling carrot.

Glazed, complacent eyes — idyllic times.

Buddhists say, “The ideal lies in the middle.” 

Lost … somewhere between two extremes.

Onlookers Won’t Know the Difference

Life’s full of fools; 

work, school, friends— 

avoid them at all costs. 

 

Greatness won’t be attained 

while surrounded by loons; 

strumming—same ol’ tunes.

 

Know your worth,

or someone else will. 

Now choose—

red, or blue pill?

Network or Die

I’m halfway through, The Square and the Tower, by Niall Ferguson. It highlights a wide range of networks including the Nixon Administration, terrorist organizations, and social media companies. He discusses the value of weak ties; individuals with large networks of people whom they vaguely know.

In the Bay Area’s highly competitive job market, the following adage resonates with a lot of people, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” Getting a job at a major tech firm without a pre-established network is nearly impossible—there are exceptions for software developers. My biggest regret looking back on college was overlooking networking opportunities. I assumed my degree and charisma were a guaranteed job ticket. The reality was bleak (still is), I had next to zero work experience during college, and my peers were chanting, “Fake it till you make it!” I wish I connected with a few individuals with lots of weak ties; being one step removed is far better than isolation and unemployment. 

I imagine my generation’s networks will involve the infiltration of big data companies like Google and Facebook. The internet has made subversion abundantly easier, and removed the need for secrecy—Russia logs into Facebook, spends millions of dollars on advertisements, and avoids the hassle of isolated attacks. The significance of weak ties and key networks cannot be understated.

False Friendships

Making and maintaining friendships used to be one of the most important facets of my life; I would organize poker nights and make sure everyone was having a good time. Then, a couple of years after college, I took a step back, and realized how hollow a lot of my friendships were. Other than a few close friends, I felt like I didn’t know the rest of them. Time erodes untouched relationships, and I was tired of organizing gatherings, so I let things settle. I figured they’d reach out to me, and a few did, but most weren’t bothered by the dissolution. 

I began to introspect and question the integrity of the relationships I formed with everyone; animals, family, and friends. I became exceedingly pessimistic and dissatisfied when I observed my peers’ relationships. It’s overly simplistic to say people form friendships for personal needs and advantages, but this rationale appears to pervade most weak ties. Adulthood necessitates careful selection of who we associate with to avoid imbalanced relationships.

Close Ties Marketing Strategy

I’ve developed a marketing theory which leverages the influence of weak ties to disseminate information. The theory focuses on a select group of indoctrinated individuals who will proselytize the masses. An example for a sports company would be to target individuals who hold clout among several athletes; e.g., athlete’s agents. This social network would presumably have more social currency, and infect the athlete’s dispositions indirectly. The challenge is finding individuals with overlapping connections and a wide enough breadth to guarantee dissemination. Additionally, conveying the value of the network is integral for incentivizing membership. My crude illustration displays the general concept.

In the illustration, Person B would be highly valuable to the network. 
Further research: Determining the necessary strength of the ties to successfully relay information.

Ten Thousand Hours

I never thought I’d be a writer. When I was nineteen, a sophomore in college, I had a professor who said, “You could lose your house, your spouse, and all of your possessions; but your education will stay with you forever.” I took those words to heart, and eventually, my studies became the most important facet of my life. 

Millennials are wont to expect success, but fail to respect the process. The Bay Area, with its tech influence, produces some of the greatest offenders. We can use the camera on our phones and become IG or Youtube famous in the span of weeks or months. However, success reaped without pouring hours into a craft will be fleeting and result in an endless competition with individuals who possess the same minimum requirements (a smartphone and personality). 

The divide between Stephen Curry and the Kardashian’s success is the difference between mastery and branding. Curry will always be an amazing athlete, whereas the Kardashian’s fame will diminish after their beauty fades (which isn’t to say they won’t be successful designers and influencers). Curry doesn’t need publicists to promote him, he just needs a basketball and a court. He might not make as much money as the Kardashians, but he will never be out of work as a result of the effort he put into mastering his craft. 

Additionally, the talent pool for experts is broader than the celebrity spotlight. There’s plenty of opportunities for individuals who put in their ten thousand hours, but only a narrow beam for the beautiful. Not to mention the constant flux of society’s definition of beauty and the inevitable patchwerk abominations resulting from excessive plastic surgery. Respect the process, success will follow. Also, don’t forget those who helped along the way.

Burn ‘Em and Churn ‘Em

Every minute I spend away from “work” is a missed opportunity. I don’t have to clock-in or answer to anyone, but I’m solely responsible for my productivity; If I don’t write, the page stays blank; if I don’t read, the pile of books grows and overflows from drawers and desks. My task list is never-ending; I’m mentally fatigued by three in the afternoon, and then I prepare for conversations with friends and loved ones. If I feel like napping, I call myself lazy and drink some caffeine. When my thoughts and stress reach a critical mass, I meditate — I find a quiet place; focus on my breathing; acknowledge my irrational dissatisfaction; and remind myself to stay present — I silence 🙊 the naysayers 🚫  and send 📩 love 💕 to the haters 🙅. 

The mind and body want to heal, but they won’t if the pain isn’t acknowledged. Before I can be kind to others, I need to be kind to myself: If I notice I’m impatient or irritable, I look at myself first, and not the person in front of me; if I’m exhausted, I owe it to my body to rest and regain my strength; if my back hurts from sitting all day, I owe it to my back to get up and walk around. 

The forty-hour workweek isn’t designed for the preservation of the workforce: managers are incentivised by their superiors to squeeze out every drop of productivity from the underlings — then the workforce burns out; goals are missed; and the bottom ten percent are culled and replaced by fresh blood. Smart companies like Google and Facebook are aware of this phenomenon, so they build gyms and quiet zones for their employees; but the expectation of working a “full” day isn’t overlooked; if anything, the perks are used as catalysts to extend productivity.

Finland has been experimenting (and succeeding) with a shortened school day and less standardized testing. Could a workforce improve with less hours worked and fewer statistical measures of success? Can we shift the paradigm from “cogs in a machine” to a “workforce family?”

Which publicly traded company would you rather invest in? An exhausted workforce with slightly higher profits—or satisfied employees, with flexible scheduling, and slightly reduced profits. Companies loathe empowering their workforce; falsely dichotomizing freedom and productivity; as if one necessarily hinders the other. Meanwhile, investors are focused on profits, which shifts the mindset to dollars instead of analyzing the complexity of wealth creation. With few exceptions, the largest expenditure for companies is staffing and training. If I were an investor, I would be more interested in the satisfaction and retention of key employees, and less concerned about the monthly earnings. The latter will fluctuate in the short term, but ultimately a business’s success will depend on the success of the prior. It takes an enlightened CEO like Laszlo Bock at Humu, to strike the proper balance between work and relaxation. He left Google, I wonder why?

What do Black Swans and Fragility Have in Common?

FYI: I, Tyler Gene Housley, am NOT a certified financial advisor, so any of the proceeding investment advice should be highly scrutinized, and undertaken at the consumer’s own risk. The following information is NOT intended to encourage the procurement of any specific assets or commodities. 

No one fully understands the complexities of the global economy; and even if someone could reliably track every company and commodity in the world; there are still flash traders and dark pools operating outside the public domain (I can already hear the bellowing cries of Ray Dalio’s fan club; hush now, Benjy).

According to Nassim Taleb, in Antifragile, the only recourse for controlling markets is to maintain volatility (competition). Efforts to control the market and legislate prosperity will interfere with “organic” competition; too much systematizing will lead to a Black Swan (unexpected, massive event; can be positive or negative). According to Taleb, the current economic system in the US is destined for failure—and the President’s effect on markets is vastly overstated. Economic collapses are merely a function of time. We shouldn’t ask if the economy will collapse, but rather when.

Antifragile by Nassim Taleb: Anything which gains from stressors is antifragile. 

Barbell distribution: 90% secure & 10% volatile.

Absence of evidence doesn’t mean evidence of absence. Be wary of pharmaceutics and economic advice. Focus on optionality; events which have a greater upside. Also, don’t trust the advice of individuals who don’t have skin in the game. 

Don’t Use Dog/Human Feces for Fertilizer

As for investing, don’t risk anything you cannot live without. Knowing the economy will boom and bust, we can expect our investment to rise or fall in relation to the general health of the market; investments don’t have a ceiling (maximum return), but they do have a floor ($0). Owning a home is one of the soundest investments, assuming the home has access to utilities (talk to Flint, Michigan); and isn’t built along ocean cliffs, flood zones, or fault lines; proximity to larger metropolitan hubs is ideal. One filter to analyze an investment by is, “Who would want to purchase this commodity?” If the answer is “no one,” then you’re probably standing before a piece of shit; if it’s your dogs, pick it up and dispose of it—unless it’s in nature, then I say, “ehhh.”

Diversification is great, but when the ship sinks, everything goes under. A rudimentary understanding of an investment’s environment is vitally important — e.g., for a home: a sturdy foundation, utilities, and, preferably, a roof with no holes in it; for a cell phone: a charger, outlet, and an internet connection — more connections and tangential products = more reliance upon third parties to maintain an investment’s value.

Reverse Budgeting

A reverse budget involves paying your known expenditures (e.g., rent and utilities), and scrutinizing all optional purchases. Food is necessary for survival, but soda is a luxury. Spending money on value added water should be reserved for the rich. If you want coffee, buy a grinder, whole beans, and a french press (congratulations, you just saved hundreds of dollars). If you need a jacket, buy something durable, but don’t spend money on brands. If you want to quickly burn through your savings, buy fireworks.

 

Quick Stock Tips from One up on Wall Street

 

by Peter Lynch

  • Determine assets, market cap, PE ratio. Follow the news, then invest.
  • Find companies unknown to Wall Street.
  • Look for niche companies a chimpanzee could run.
  • Keep an eye out for reverse splits and inside investing from executives, especially after diversification from the parent company.
  • Invest in smaller companies you’re familiar with to 10X your money.

An Aside on the Bay Area

Economic disparities are increasing throughout the nation; consumer spending is through the roof; and personal debt is stacking like a house of cards. I cannot foresee the tipping point, but the symptoms cannot be ignored. 

The Bay Area is my home, but tech money has desecrated it’s creative roots. Soulful experiences cannot be bought; they require a social catalyst and a desire for change—whereas the current paradigm purloins people’s pockets.

Once the Bay’s tech bubble bursts, where will the tech bros go? Boston, Atlanta, Austin, or somewhere outside the US? I don’t know.

Boxer’s Burden

The stock market and state lotteries are two of the most fucked up legalized forms of gambling. A California Lottery advertisement reads, “Multiply your luck!” and displays four different colored lottery tickets with translucent X’s over each. The marketing piece drew me in with the colors, but the catchphrase is complete bullshit. I pity the poor souls who view that marketing and believe buying different tickets “multiplies their chances,” I feel even worse for the people who invest in the vitality of our country’s financial institutions. When the market eventually collapses, I’ll be forced to watch as the banks fall to the ground and flail around like fish out of water; executive bankers will get bonuses, then slowly sneak into their private jets; leaving the nation to pick up the tab.

Soul Searching

Vacilando

Everyone has somewhere to go,

crowded cars disrupt the flow;

lost, unknown, wandering souls;

Blocks and bars to our goals.

 

In reality, we’re all the same:

playing the ol’ Matrix game;

cut them off, speed *SKRRR*

Zoom on by, scream a slur.

 

Where ya goin, what’s the hurry?

Blink—life passes ina flurry.

Do you cut in line, to save some time;

starving those with exposed spines?

 

Probably not. But when set

safely in our speeding bullets:

texting, red, right through the light—

hitting that kid … what a flight! 🤸

Tourism vs. Traveling

Research a little; take all of the necessary medical precautions (e.g., vaccinations and medications); learn the basics of the language for survival (e.g., bathroom, food, water, and numbers); then, purchase a ticket. Too many people worry about minute details and dissuade themselves from taking a trip; it’s best to leave room for wandering and exploration. 

Certain sights are undoubtedly worth visiting, but tourism is distinct from traveling and experiencing a culture—tourist locations offer a sense of security, but at the expense of total immersion. Feeling safe is crucial, but safety and comfort are often conflated. We should always feel safe, and trust our instincts, but if we feel completely comfortable, why did we leave our living rooms? 

Language is inextricably tied to culture—if we cannot communicate, we won’t grasp the idiosyncrasies and nuances. Also, don’t worry about embarrassment, most people appreciate the effort—New York is an exception.

Traveling through Japan

Day 1: Kyoto Bound

I’m currently standing in a train to Kyoto, because non-reserved seating is cheaper. Most of the Japanese people are nice—the helpless foreigner approach usually elicits sympathy, especially among women. Surprisingly, sushi isn’t significantly better here than in the US; the Bay Area has some of the best food selection (at least for less expensive meals). 

The allure of foreign places has diminished significantly with this trip. I still abhor tourists, especially those with selfie-sticks, so I avoid the typical traps, and wander through foreign lands like a desert nomad, frequently relying on favorable conditions and a hospitable populace. When I return home, I will plant roots and commit to a life of moderate labor, learning, and relaxation. Absence of labor leaves me unfulfilled and reliant on the generosity of my parents. I’ve learned enough to know all of life will be played out in my head, and the pursuit of novelty will cause us to chase our tails for eternity. 

Trees can only grow big while planted, once uprooted, they begin to decompose. The same is true for man. The main differences being the source of nutrients and means of procreation; modern times have convoluted the latter. This is most apparent in Japan, where the desire for solipsism is growing; causing a generational population gap. Some say the “problem” is a result of overworking, but I haven’t ventured to ask someone what the average time spent working is (anything over forty hours would lead me to accept this premise). Gambling and smoking also appear to be contributing factors. Virtual games, casino stores, and e-cigarettes are ubiquitous—a surprise to me, because of the conservative nature of the country (bare skin and tattoos are sparse).

Tons of readers and a plethora of bookstores, but I cannot comment on the contents. I appreciate the soft-spoken nature of the Japanese, but the trains compensate for the lack of noise. Their bullet trains and subways traverse the cities like arteries, supplying a constant flow of bodies. An overview of the stations would give the impression of scurrying ants, but the eye-level view gives the appearance of a well orchestrated play (an adaptation to our twenty-first century environment). 

Consumerism is rampant as well. I try to ignore this detail, but I’ve spent the past several days searching for my mom’s souvenir toothpick holder; scouring miles upon miles of Rubik’s cube shopping centers. 

I finally got a seat, forty minutes from Kyoto.

*phew*

The train’s English audio recordings are comforting, I wonder if they’ll change to a different language in the future. The scene outside the train is reminiscent of the typical East Bay BART ride, but the houses are smaller and the roofs have slightly steeper pitches. Also, there are more fields dispersed throughout the countryside, and the hills are lined with dark green trees; the tops of which look like ripped paper against the clouded sky. 

[A train rushes by on the opposite rail — my cart shakes — it vanishes. I try to hide my surprise. 😅]

Would Einstein have developed his theory of relativity if trains were moving this fast?  where are the homeless people?

I made it to the famous Kiyomizu-dera at 5:36PM. The main building cost 400 yen to enter, which is only $4, but I walked past it, and dipped down a side path to escape the crowds. The air is filled with the hum of crickets and the chirps of a sole bird; personages in the distance punctuate the performance. The night is descending quickly—ouch, f*** that hurt—damn mosquitoes. I’m leaving before I get eaten alive. 

Day 2: Journey to the Philosopher’s Path

I stop for lunch on my way to the Philosopher’s Path, attempting to avoid the rain. The restaurant staff keeps giggling at me because I’m eating my meal like a bewildered child, stabbing at the matcha cube with a two-pronged forkish utensil—unsure if it’s intended for dessert or the egg custard dish—an unsolved mystery. I’m the only non-asian person in the restaurant—the black sheep—and the only person eating alone. Sometimes I prefer to eat alone—trivial conversations don’t amuse me like they once did.

Recent events have left the population sensitive like an exposed wound; the slightest provocation results in defensiveness, reproach, or sheer animosity. Technology in particular has partitioned the generations—complexity of ideas (expansion of various fields) and varying degrees of education have exacerbated the divide. However, I’m optimistic for the future, as long as we can witness the beauty of cherry blossoms; feel the bite of a gigantic mosquito; appreciate the aroma of burning incense; hear the rhythmic hum of crickets; and suck on succulent sushi. 

Neuralink is developing neural implants to combat artificial intelligence (AI) and cure epilepsy. Part of me wants Musk’s efforts to fail, but the technology is too close to be averted. Implant technologies will establish a new paradigm of haves and have-nots; an insurmountable disadvantage for the have-nots. I also expect cognitive disorders to spike in relation to the adoption of these technologies. Silence is necessary!

Day 3: Bamboo Bliss

It’s pouring rain again. I’m biking south toward Fushimi Inari-taisha, famous for its thousands of Torii. It’s crowded when I arrive, but I manage to split away from the bovine movement, and stumble upon some smaller shrines. The first shrine I encounter has a small house next to it, with an overhang barely covering the entry step. The property looks vacant, so I lay a cloth on the ground to keep my butt dry (my mom’s gift from the hotel), prepare my incense, and gaze out into the field of bamboo trees before me. I haven’t meditated much prior to this trip, so my mind drifts frequently, and the sound of nearby footsteps hinders peak concentration. Eventually, I slip into a blissful state; the bamboo shoots meld together, raindrops dance on leaves, and I feel at ease.

How many people experience blissfulness on a regular basis? so many thoughts and stimuli…  

After my meditation, I came across two men chanting at a shrine. I attempt to pass by unnoticed, but one of the men sees me, and the other begins to remove his garments, so I quickly flee the scene. I don’t want this mysterious man’s genitals to be a lasting visual for the day. Then, I venture half a mile further before deciding I strayed too far. So, I return to the herd, and stop at the street eats to enjoy some bacon-wrapped rice, teriyaki chicken on a skewer, and fried octopus-filled puff balls (the creamy filling wasn’t my favorite). 

I devour my food, retrieve my bike and pedal homeward, but not before stopping at the Tofukuji Temple; a Buddhist temple with massive wooden structures. There are two locations which require payments, but I politely declined. Buddhism, a belief system which prides itself on asceticism and minimalism, has some balls charging 900 yen ($9 USD) to tour their grounds. I quietly explore the free areas, then head home. Upon arriving at the apartment, I remove my thoroughly soaked windbreaker, and video chat with Ariel (my girlfriend)—relieved to hear a familiar voice. Despite my growing preference for isolation, I thoroughly enjoy time with those whom I care about.

Day 4: Attack of the Deer

Nara’s Park has been the highlight of my solo adventures thus far. Seeing people chased and bitten by cute deer produces an inexpressible joy. Also, I’m continually impressed by the quantity and affordability of the trains. The round-trip to Nara cost less than $20, and my trip to Tsutenkaku, Osaka was roughly $15, each trip lasting roughly an hour. 

After returning from Nara, I grab a couple drinks and go out to a hookah lounge; inside what appears to be an apartment complex. The interior is cozy, and dimly lit by star-shaped light fixtures. Also, I finally found some company; T—  was originally from Chibu, raised in Germany, and attending university in Kyoto; then there’s Victor and Christina, a couple from Majorca, Spain. I seem to find like-minded people when I indulge in unhealthy habits. 

T— and I briefly discuss some political and economic issues. He informed me about the overbearing parental pressures to study, practice extracurricular activities, and work in a demanding hierarchical job for a large portion of life. 

Since T— returned from Germany, he has clashed with Japan’s conservative expectations. Tattooed on his hands—taboo even from a western standpoint—he divulges his dealings with depression, and informs me about the suicide statistics in Japan; a frequent disruption of their punctual trains (one suicide every sixteen minutes, and one every four minutes in South Korea). I can tell he’s well read, and I commend him for battling with his demons at an early age; it will set him up for success in the future. He just needs to stay clear-headed long enough to make it there. 

T— recommended Ichiran Ramen, so Christina, Victor, and I head there after hookah (best ramen so far).

Day 5: Electoral Apathy

Another rainy day, so I thought I would take it slow and start with some writing. I’ve been ruminating about President Trump and the events leading to his “unlikely” nomination. 

The US has been on the rise economically since the beginning of Obama’s eight years in office. However, Nassim Taleb notes this was expected due to the recession prior to his first nomination. Anyone would have seen positive gains following a recession, then there’s Obamacare, which was positive in theory (national healthcare), but poor in practice (fiscally unsustainable). Prosperity is growing along the affluent coastal regions of the country, while the Midwest and South fall into a state of turmoil; drug abuse and obesity are on the rise, and an economic collapse is on the horizon. Trump inherited a sinking ship, and he lacks the prowess to keep it afloat (it’s doubtful anyone could). 

Putting all of his absurd idiosyncrasies and racist remarks aside, impeaching him would leave us with Pence, who appears more ill equipped than Trump. It begs the question, “Why are liberal media outlets antagonizing Trump, knowing Pence would succeed him?” I understand and appreciate the efforts to deter corruption and fraudulent campaign activities—but the impetus for all media is to gain ratings for increased advertisement revenue. Ratings at the expense of exposing the stupidity and weakness of our nation. The point of media is to inform and educate the public, we know Trump is incompetent, but what’s the viable alternative?

Day 6: Spiritual Compensation

Kitano-Tenman-gu had promise, but the more scenic areas are closed, and a political cacophony can be heard in the distance. Additionally, I had to dowse my incense early because people were nearby. Finding solitude near urban life is almost impossible, the internet has publicized every desirable location and shrines are surrounded by streets and trains. I sound like a curmudgeon, but I can’t suppress these disgruntled thoughts. 

However, Japan (Kyoto) does preserve nature and historic locations better than the west. I wish I knew the language, so I can understand the prolific Shinto shrines—beautifully painted carvings in wood and metal—gibberish to my western eyes.

I’m awestruck by the size and specificity of some temples—dwarfing men like the Spanish cathedrals. I dread these massive masterpieces—shrines for deities and demigods. I prefer nature and the simplest feasible structure when possible; all of the gold ornamentation makes my spiritual senses recoil. Spirituality is a humble pursuit, there’s no space for decadence. The grander the structure, the more skeptical I am of those who constructed it and worship there. I came to Japan for solitude and simplicity, apparently these values are reserved for the countryside.

Globalization requires different tools to thrive, but not to live a pleasant life. Existentialism keeps our species high-strung, ready to step on the necks of others to further our needs. Commercial marketing campaigns have brainwashed the population—a not so subtle ruse—replacing our traditional values with clothes, cars, bigger homes, cell phones, and tourism. Destinations are converted into asylums for the affluent, then, middle-class Americans follow the money and plunder paradise to appease their active social following. 

Would as many people travel without the means to capture and share their experiences?

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