Notes From My Journal:  

This Actually Happened

Delray Beach, FL– We were talking about sexual harassment. Sally and Leslie and I. Sally said, “At my age, I could use a bit of it now and then. Leslie laughed, agreeing. “I’m way short on that kind of attention,” I admitted.

“Bernie used to harass me,” Leslie said seriously. “He used to come up behind me and rub my shoulders as I worked.” Bernie was her boss. And my partner.

“He did that to me too,” I said. “I took it as a fatherly thing. He did it to lots of people, including his kids.”

“It felt creepy,” Leslie said.

So there you have it. I have no doubt that it felt creepy to Leslie. I’m sure she was subject to various levels of sexual harassment during the years she worked for us. This was 30 years ago.

But I don’t believe Bernie was sexually harassing her. I believe he was doing to her what he was doing to me. I believe he saw it as an avuncular gesture, one of warmth.

I could be wrong. He could have had different motives depending on whose shoulders he was rubbing. I just don’t believe that.

Many would say that what he meant doesn’t matter. It’s how she felt that counts. And it does count. But that doesn’t mean it’s true.

These days, I wouldn’t think of rubbing a woman’s shoulders – any woman’s except K’s. But I’d have no compunctions about doing the same thing to a man. And what if he felt it was creepy?

Leslie never said anything to Bernie. And that was probably at least in part because he was her boss and, as her boss, had a certain “power” over her. But that power didn’t extend to prohibiting her speech. Though it made it more difficult. More risky.

Bernie is gone now so I can’t ask him about it. Neither can Leslie. We will never know. Leslie will carry that creepy memory with her. And I will live with my doubt.

 

From My “Work-in-Progress” Basket

Elegant Solutions*

In his book In Pursuit of Elegance, Matthew E. May tells a story about Drachten, a Dutch village that had a serious problem with traffic at its main intersection. The village hired an expert, Hans Monderman, to help them reduce congestion and accidents.

The conventional way to do this is to implement various measures to get cars to slow down. Unfortunately, such measures – including stoplights, radar-controlled equipment, and a beefed-up police force – are expensive. Since Drachten had a small budget, Monderman was forced to do something different.

He realized that this was an opportunity for him to test a theory he had been developing about human behavior: that the more controls you impose on people, the less self-control they are likely to exhibit. In his words, “Treat people like zombies and they’ll behave like zombies. But treat them as intelligent, and they’ll respond intelligently.”

So instead of increasing traffic controls in the middle of town, he reduced them to a startling degree. Instead of adding regulations, he suggested repealing most of them. No speed bumps, no speed limits, no signs, no mandates about right of way.

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Notes From My Journal 

More on Caring Less: The Questionable Virtue of Restraining Desire

Delray Beach, FL-“The discipline of desire is the backbone of character,” wrote Will & Ariel Durant.

That’s different from the Buddhist idea of extinguishing desire. The difference is profound. And it says something about two different worldviews.

The Durant idea is very Western, very Christian – almost Puritanical. It is about self-restraint. About reining in one’s natural impulses. This is a view that sees desire (and the temptations that come from desire) as inherent to the human condition.

The Buddhist idea is about letting go. It is about giving up desire. Energetically, it is the opposite of restraint. It assumes that desire is extrinsic to the self – that the self can be separated from desire.

For the Durants, life is a struggle to resist one’s inherent desires, and the effort to resist builds moral muscle. A good or virtuous person is one who strongly and continuously resists temptation.

For the Buddhist, extinguishing desire (caring less) is not about character but about wisdom.

Let’s say K and I agree that we will go to the Norton Museum Saturday afternoon. I know there is a possibility that we may not go. Still, I allow myself to look forward to the trip. Saturday arrives and K tells me she cannot go. I am disappointed, on the verge of anger. I want to blame her, which will cause a fight and more pain. So I control myself. I restrain the desire I have to act out. I behave myself. I behave like a person of good character.

But if, instead, I take the Buddhist path, I do not attach myself to the prospect of going. While scheduling the event, I consciously detach myself from the anticipation of it. I allow myself not to care. By doing so, I spare myself the possibility of pain if it turns out we cannot go, while not diminishing in any way the possibility of joy.

 

From My “Work-in-Progress” Basket

Collecting: The Best Way to Satisfy Your Inner Material Girl (or Guy)

I’m a big fan of rewarding yourself whenever you’ve made significant progress on any of your long-term goals – especially your wealth-building goals. If, say, you get a raise, start a new side business, or negotiate a great deal on a piece of income property… you should give yourself a present.

For some people, that could be a gourmet dinner or a weekend cruise. For others, it might be an expensive toy – maybe a designer watch, a wave runner, or a motorcycle. I’m not against vacations, toys, and dinners. They make life (and hard work) grand. But today, I would like to make an argument for another kind of reward – one that is tailor-made for wealth builders.

I’m talking about collecting.

How good is it? Let me count the ways:

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Notes From My Journal

Does the SEC Really Give a Crap About Small Investors?

Delray Beach, FL– “The private markets are awash in capital these days,” Jay Clayton, Chairman of the SEC, told entrepreneurs and business-school students in Nashville recently. “The question is, who is participating?”

For decades, regulators have walled off most private deals from smaller investors. Because of the added risk of private investing, they must meet stringent income and net-worth requirements to participate. As a result, small investors never had access to companies like Uber Technologies and Airbnb.

Mr. Clayton wants to change that.

“This is good news,” TM said in a memo to my partners. “And it would be no small potatoes as it would open a big line of biz. Early Seeds.”

TM was talking about the opportunity for businesses like ours, publishers of investment advice, to sell more newsletters and other advisory services focusing on this newly opened and quite exciting topic.

Here’s what I think: Yes, it will be good for financial publishers like us. And it will be great for financial advisors and brokers and all the guys with suits that live off Wall Street. But it will not be good for ordinary investors, particularly the elderly and vulnerable. This change will make the sum of them poorer. And I’m pretty sure Mr. Clayton knows that.

 

From My “Work-in-Progress” Basket

A Serious Answer to a Dumb Question

 “What habit made the biggest difference in your life with the least effort?”

This is the sort of question you see on Quora – ultimately dumb but superficially interesting. I rarely open the links because I know the answers will likely be as silly as the questions.

That’s what happened when I saw this one.

But then I thought: If I am taking questions from an audience and someone asks this one, how would I answer it? I couldn’t dismiss it as a stupid. What would I say?

Hmmm… the audience is waiting. Clock is ticking…

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Notes from my Journal

Everything Is Going Up

New York City– Walking uptown on 8th, from 17th to 41st, we passed through what used to be called Hell’s Kitchen. And we were surprised to see a half-dozen glittering glass skyscrapers amidst what appeared to be a massive development.

It was Hudson Yards, a 60-block megaproject financed by the state, the city, and the MTA, in conjunction with The Related Companies, Oxford, and some additional private builders. It goes from 29th to 42nd street, and from 8th Avenue to West Side Highway.

Much of it is built on a huge concrete platform that covers an underground storage facility for rail cars. The first phase, which is what we were looking at, has two large office towers with a retail podium between them, and an 80-story tower on 10th that is the city’s third-tallest building.

The complex will include millions of square feet of residential and commercial space, including seven residential towers, a mall with 100 shops and 20 restaurants, and six acres of gardens and roads. The total cost of the project was estimated several years ago at $20 billion but it is likely to come in higher.

Dozens of businesses whose headquarters had been moved out of the city in years past have committed to leasing space. And some firms residing in the financial district have plans to move in. Needless to say, this has spurred all sorts of secondary development activities in surrounding areas.

I wondered about the economic impact of the project. New York City has problems.

Last year, for example, the city was ranked last among 20 US cities on “taxpayer burden.” The city had accumulated over $150 billion in bills above and beyond assets on its balance sheet, which translated to $61,000 per taxpaying denizen.

What those numbers didn’t take into account, however, was the city’s ability to raise revenues through taxes. As these buildings go up, so do tax revenues. Not just property taxes but sales taxes and personal income taxes as more mid- and high-income people are lured back into the city.

I wouldn’t hazard a guess as to the eventual success of the project. But it’s hard to imagine that during the next 5 to 10 years it will be anything less than hugely positive.

 

From my work in progress basket

Get Up, Take a Walk, Extend Your Life

You don’t have to be a physiologist to understand how unhealthy it is to spend 8 or 10 hours a day sitting on your butt.

The stiffness you feel when you get up should be an obvious warning. Or the simple logic of recognizing how the body is designed (to move on two feet) and the consequences of ignoring that.

You’re probably aware that countless studies have linked extended sedentary behavior – prolonged sitting, in particular – to not only spinal, muscular, and joint problems but a plethora of other conditions. These include obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, abnormal cholesterol levels, and an increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers.

Note: We are talking about any form of sitting – in front of a screen, in front of a steering wheel, or in front of a keyboard.

And although I think of myself as fairly active because I walk for 40 minutes and exercise for an hour each day, if you add up the time I spend reading, writing, or driving… I’m probably in a sitting position for 8 to 12 hours.

Cripes!

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