07.22.20

the economy, and biden’s challenge

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:36 pm by Administrator

i have to admit that it sometimes makes me angry when i see the nasdaq breaking records on a daily basis. that might have a little to do with missing out on this tech bull run; but it mostly has to do with the incredible disparity between the experiences of the rich and the poor of our country. while people are afraid for their lives and their livelihoods, investors are piling in to an overcrowded tech sector and developing a ponzi scheme of escalating valuations. the optics look bad for the investors and also for the companies that are benefiting from this wanton speculation. that’s not going to bode well for the tech industry when the economic slow-down persists and the heavily indebted federal government begins to turn its regulatory attentions toward recession profiteers.

that being said, like i wrote in a prior entry, i understand that what’s fueling this tech bubble is fear more than greed. it strikes me as terribly ironic that tech is being viewed as the defensive sector of choice, when tech (and growth in general) has been historically contingent upon a bullish macro milieu. to me, this simply magnifies the short-medium term risks in biotech and information technology. when (not if) the market as a whole reacts to the headwinds of this rapidly evolving healthcare crisis, the sell-off in tech stocks will be fueled not only by a flight to cash but also by unsustainably high valuations.

the single most important metric i’m following as a bellwether of this economy is the price of gold. gold isn’t the speculator’s choice; it produces no returns, and it functions purely as a store of value. investors go into gold when they see immediate risk of currency devaluation; investors pile into gold when there is imminent risk of significant inflation. right now, investors are piling into gold, because the one thing that seems relatively certain is that massive debt and federal stimulus will devalue the dollar and accelerate inflation.

back in march, i predicted that one of these three things would precipitate the second downswing in market valuations: renewed state lockdowns, trade wars with the EU or Europe, and spiking inflation. i actually believe that all three are in play right now. as a result, i’m still predicting a stock market crash before october and quite possibly within the next four weeks. the financials will be the leading indicator; a pull-back of 10 percent or more will trigger a correction in consumer discretionary and industrial valuations that will ultimately spill over into a massive sell-off in tech stocks. the mega-cap staples may be the last to fall, but i don’t even see apple or amazon escaping this next leg of the downturn. my S&P target remains at 2000, and as unlikely as this might seem right now, i am finding this outcome more and more inevitable.

donald trump’s best shot at getting reelected was a decisive coronavirus response and a V-shaped bounce-back for the american economy. had he nailed it by banning international travel and closing our borders in early february, he would have had this election in the bag. now, biden’s victory seems to be a near certainty. there’s no question in my mind that this election will be a referendum on trump’s handling of the covid crisis; biden’s fitness for duty or his value proposition will be mostly irrelevant. and that’s too bad, because the biden administration will enter office with no clear mandate to do anything except to end the chaos of the trump presidency.

in fact, our collective expectations for a biden administration need to be particularly specific and high. as low as the bar will be at the end of trump’s term, we need to make sure that biden and his team are held accountable to executing a sensible plan for the nation’s economic recovery. open-ended fiscal stimulus is not acceptable. vague promises of a return to environmental protection cannot be tolerated. cheap slogans like “made in america” simply mimic trumpism without addressing america’s real need to realign and deepen its international partnerships. first and foremost, the biden administration needs to put forward a federal fiscal plan that stimulates growth, maximizes employment, and averts stagflation. simply taxing the rich and spending on infrastructure isn’t going to work. we need to rebuild global supply chains, reduce labor costs, avert pension crises, contain key costs (i.e. prescription drug prices), and protect small businesses. talking up socialism is fine, and there’s room for more socialism over the long term; but making capitalism work in america is what we need right now. that’s a tall order, and it requires more than big ideas; it requires an educated strategy and disciplined tactics

07.21.20

my walks

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:27 pm by Administrator

i try to take a walk into the neighborhood near my office, at least a couple of times a week. even in the heat, the walk is greatly pleasurable to me.

i find the trees very remarkable. sometimes i talk to the trees. i say “thank you” to the trees that are particularly old and magnificent in their vastness and presence. and i say “thank you” to the small trees, whose lives seem light and filled with promise.

many of the residents in this neighborhood have very beautiful flower gardens. the flowers that we call white daisies always bring a smile to my face. i don’t know why. but when i look at them, i feel the universe’s great love and affection for me. the rosebushes in this neighborhood are particularly impressive, and not infrequently i’ll stop in my tracks, bend down and put my nose to a rose in full bloom, and just take in the intoxicating fragrance breath after breath.

the coolness that i feel in the shade of the trees never fails to be surprising. i look up through the branches at the glitter of light and recognize that this moment is just the same as any other moment i have ever lived. but somehow, this moment is the most beautiful moment i have ever experienced.

my ego makes projects out of everything. he sees many enemies. he judges everyone. and he fills my mind with his voice of criticism and despair. when he looks down the tree-lined streets into a distant future, he convinces me of what’s to come, and it feels immediately futile. even if they are not certainly lies, they are not truths either. i am the cause of my own suffering.

sometimes i am afraid to get sick, to lose function, to die. i think about what it would feel like to lose my daughter or to see her experience great pain, and it makes me want to stop living. i understand where these thoughts and fears come from. i hold that man in me who cannot get free of the need to control all things. in fact, i will soon pass from this world, as will my little girl. our lives are so fleeting, and yet we spend so much of them fretting about the little that we can accomplish in this trivial amount of time. today, i resolved to cry when i feel like it, even though i have not cried in a long, long time. i also resolved to enjoy the beach, the next time i find a beach to go to. and lastly, i decided to enjoy today, because on my walk i realized that the day i dreaded never happened and was never real

07.20.20

being kind to myself

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:51 pm by Administrator

i’m about eight months into the toughest job i’ve ever had, and i am asking myself on a daily basis why i’m sticking with it. sometimes i come up with some good answers.

one answer that is worth considering is that there is a certain, very specific satisfaction i get from my work that i can’t get anywhere else. it’s the satisfaction of taking on a challenge and growing from it. already i can see that the things that used to keep me up at night don’t trouble me as much. the almost weekly rhythm of stamping out fires and resolving emergencies has inured me to panic. appreciating my own resilience is a unique satisfaction that i gain from doing this job.

another answer that seems somewhat credible is that there are people at my company who genuinely depend on me now. and because i have put so much energy into supporting my people, my absence would certainly be missed.

i’m learning things about leadership and about the industry. while that answer isn’t so important to me, it’s at least valid.

and lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the job helps me pay the bills. at the end of it all, what i understand is that very few people in this world actually enjoy their work or find it deeply meaningful. they work because they have to. in the absence of any other fulfillment, i still have to work to survive. so that is reason enough to hang in there.

but in my meditations, one thing i have come to recognize is that i am perhaps in the wrong line of work. that doesn’t mean that i’m not good at my job or that i can’t get better at it. but it explains why every single day at work i feel that i am going against the grain of my being. my old mentor told me that going against the grain (and being mindful of that) is essential to growth; but it is possible that the work can be so unnatural and taxing as to be unsustainable. is this work unsustainable for me? i don’t know yet. but perhaps the progressive fatigue i’m experiencing is a sign that i’m struggling too much to keep this up for much longer.

when i was a younger man, i spent quite a lot of time feeling trapped in my life and very sorry for myself. it’s different now. i don’t see the point in feeling sorry for myself, because i am the cause of my own suffering, and i am responsible for my own decisions. my children won’t starve if i decide to stop working or to make a major career shift. i owe it to myself to be kind to myself. i’ve spent much of my life believing that the purpose of my life was self-sacrifice or the well-being of another; but that’s an incredible lie, of course. enlightenment begins with a simple realization: as mary oliver puts it, “to save the only life you could save.”

to me, kindness to myself begins when i stop asking myself “what’s next?” that question captures the suffering of a lifetime. for people like me, looking ahead and planning one’s course in life is an inherently futile venture. for me, healing begins with an absolute commitment to the sufficiency and totality of the moment in front of me. at some point, i need to stop going against the grain. i need to go in the direction that is natural not simply because it is easy but because it is right.

someday, i’ll come down from a mountain and understand what became of me and why. but for now, i am suffering, and i cannot even begin to discern where my suffering is coming from. i have learned enough from my meditations to understand that something needs to change. i need to change. the world may seem chaotic and broken, but i am even more lost and broken than the world around me. there is no future for me in a make-believe path of redemption that leads to eternal glory. there is only silence, and the infinitesimal respirations of the soul, and the release of what was and the openness to what is. i have lived a restless and painful life. but it is not too late for me to experience kindness, not the least from my own self

07.11.20

the eagles and racism: it all comes together now, because of you desean jackson

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:39 pm by Administrator

there’s the thing i write about when i want to escape the political world of ideas, and that’s the eagles.

and then there’s the thing i write about when i have no choice but to reckon with the ugliness of systematic injustice.

and then there’s this unique moment, this unexpected moment, when the organization i support happens to feature a player who is, among other things, an outspoken anti-semite.

like most eagle fans, i like desean jackson. i was at the linc last year for the season opener when the guy carved up the redskins for 154 yards and 2 TDs. believe me when i say he’s an eagle that i’d theoretically like to keep around.

but d-jax should have been released once it was confirmed that he’d knowingly and intentionally put that instagram story out there. our professional relationship with him should have ended right there, just like it would have if a white player on our team had posted that kind of cruel and hateful messaging about black people. but the management of our team and the media in general have chosen to look upon d-jax’s “slip up” as an inconvenience, a “distraction” (as malcolm jenkins would have it) from the more important needs of the black community.

this isn’t about the black community. this has nothing to do with BLM. this has to do with an evil that’s permeated civilization since the beginning of written history. it’s the moral litmus test of every society that risen and fallen over the last four thousand years. it’s a disease that we manage but somehow never cure, the ugly parasite that burrows its way to the surface of our being in times like these, when economies go sour and tensions run high.

black people, desean jackson’s comments have nothing to do with the value of black lives.

white people, desean jackson’s comments have nothing to do with the socioeconomic disadvantages of black people.

people of color, desean jackson’s comments aren’t about rich, privileged white people who can fend for themselves.

desean jackson’s comments reflect one of the deepest and nastiest systematic injustices in all of human history. his comments are a red flag, a call to urgency, and a reminder that we’re still not right in our heads, even with so many people ostensibly committed to equality and justice in this country. the collective silence on desean jackson’s anti-semitism reflects complicity, ignorance, selfishness, and cruelty on a broad scale, in the black, white, minority, and professional football communities, and it does not get a pass—not today, and not ever.

never again. remember that motherfuckers? remember that?

everyone (including me) is going to get angry about black men getting killed by white police. but no one’s going to march for the jews, put up a banner about how jewish lives matter, recount the history of the years when millions of jews were rounded up and exterminated, or be honest about their own personal violence against jews in their own communities. that’s maddening and hypocritical. and all i’m going to do about it is rant, because of all the crazy things going on in our world right now, it’s the one thing that makes me saddest this morning. as a fan, i waited for my team to do the right thing. as a fan, i waited for good guys like malcolm jenkins to take a stand against the same kind of racism that has personally impacted him and his community. no one showed up to say that jewish lives matter. so, by extension, no lives really matter.

desean jackson gets to visit temples and talk to holocaust survivors, but in the end, he’s going to escape accountability. in the end, anti-semitism gets a pass. it always does.

07.07.20

covid thoughts, macroeconomics

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:30 pm by Administrator

i was shocked and perhaps even horrified to learn that most airlines are moving forward with full capacity seating this month. someone from united apparently let on that aside from requiring masking, the airline wouldn’t be taking other protective measures because there’s no evidence that reduced capacity or middle-seat exclusions would confer any additional protection. while that fact may be convenient, it’s also rather ominous and just further highlights the near inevitability of significant exposure to COVID when traveling by air.

with the dust settling on state lockdowns, i am struck now by how unfortunate and unsuccessful California’s experiment with a state-wide lockdown proved to be. the state never flattened the curve, and incidence in L.A. County appeared to increase week over week despite fairly aggressive measures over 10-12 weeks. the only silver lining is that the death rate overall has seen a steady decrease in relation to the rising incidence, suggesting (as has been widely reported) that a rising proportion of newly infected individuals are of lower-risk cohorts.

it is possible, in retrospect, that the state lockdown did prevent a critical surge in infections and thereby preserved our ICU capacity; but the alternative hypothesis is just as credible in my view—that the lockdown itself was a half-measure that proved to be counterproductive. the disproportionate impact of COVID on minority communities is my case in point; the extreme disparities in infections and deaths between richer and poorer urban populations underscore just how much one’s ability to enforce social distancing for self-protection depends on one’s means. most of my Medi-Cal patients live in large, multi-generational households in which sustained social distancing is impossible; and there have been so many nightmarish reports of infections burning their way through low-income families and their extended networks over weeks to months. a lock-down is a minor inconvenience to wealthy people who can isolate themselves one to a bedroom and even avoid shared bathrooms; but it’s a ludicrous proposition for families in communal living situations. california, with its large urban working populations, was destined to fail the lock-down. in the end, this colossal effort only succeeded in hurting the economic livelihoods of those who were most vulnerable.

with this in mind, we would be insane to reinstitute lock-downs now. our best hope is to isolate high-risk populations as much as possible (i.e. the elderly and chronically ill) and to improve supportive services and home deliveries of essential goods to these individuals as much as possible, even as the rest of the country returns to business as usual.

what’s the outlook on the pandemic at this point? i would estimate that we are probably at 8-10% prevalence nation-wide and increasing by the day. epidemiologists say that for an infection with an R-0 of 3, we should expect a decline in incidence only when population prevalence exceeds 66%, but that assumes homogeneous mixing, which of course is an erroneous assumption. i would argue that of all the potential super-spreaders in the american population, a disproportionate number of them have already been infected as part of the first wave; and thus the susceptible 90% of the population are less likely to be closely networked, in high-contact professions, or at high risk of infection for other reasons. my feeling is that we will see declining incidence at a much lower level of prevalence (i.e 25-30%), at which point herd immunity will effectively interrupt high-level transmission and slow the spread of infection through social networks. that may be the case as early as mid-Fall, in time to quell the impact of any resurgence related to winter lifestyle changes. the net effect of all this may be steadily rising incidence through the summer and early fall with a plateau or even decline in incidence as the usual flu season accelerates in december and january.

what this means, ironically, is that a vaccine that’s ready for roll-out in january or february of 2021 (the most optimistic projections) may be too late to stem the tide of infection, as by that point the curve would already have significantly flattened due to herd immunity. moreover, the vaccine may very well have a limited window of usefulness, as the virus’s low rate of mutation would appear to suggest that it will not demonstrate the antigenic drift necessary for recurrent cycles of seasonal reinfection. all of the hype and investment in a COVID vaccine may ultimately yield a product that we don’t need very much, in the end.

granted, much of this is speculation, but it is a distinct possibility nonetheless. the implication is that our society’s overall response to COVID (much like the individual immune response to this novel infection) will be delayed and overexuberant, wasting a lot of resources, inflaming society, and yielding little value.

does this all mean in the end that we’ll get back to normal, enjoying a swift and total “v-shaped recovery”? this might have been possible if we had averted lockdown and selectively (and adequately) protected those at highest risk of complications. a V-recovery is impossible now. i can’t see us fully realizing the economic impact of the state lockdowns and the interruptions in global supply chains for months—but it’s going to be devastating when it happens. i have friends who either lead or own industries in transportation, hospitality, restaurants, energy, and finance, and none of them see themselves escaping the ramifications of widespread insolvencies. and even those who are likely to tide themselves over long enough to see business normalize are liquidating their personal assets and taking on extraordinary debt in order to do so. it’s a resetting of the long-term debt cycle that we’re looking at (as ray dalio is contending). what that means for main street is that unemployment and austerity are here to stay. what it means for wall street is that the weak will fade out (regardless of fed stimulus) while the strong survive—but the carnage will accelerate into the winter months.

i’ve found the current bear market rally to be fascinating, as it’s been sector-specific, driven by stimulus-related liquidity, and inspired not by macroeconomic fundamentals but rather by the forced funneling that comes with limited alternative opportunities. the bull run in biotech and information technology has been particularly interesting (and baffling) to behold. having traditionally been a passive index investor, i was unaccustomed to tracking sectors until recently, but after digging into the particulars of this spring rally i can see how specific this market “recovery” has been. with minimal bond yields and zero interest rates, investors have had no choice but to pull out of fixed income and go into equities; and with the energy, financials, and consumer discretionary sectors essentially paralyzed by lock-downs, this equity investment has been poured indiscriminately into big tech stocks. analysts are rating companies like apple and microsoft as “strong buys” when they’re outracing virtually any other surrogate marker of economic growth and opportunity. that’s not just speculative; that’s perilous. and i’ll argue that it’s not rooted in optimism and greed. ironically, it’s rooted in fear—the fear that virtually everything outside of tech will cave in and collapse.

so what can one do but stand back from the herd, wear a mask when others are looking, buy gold, and save cash? there will be a time to reconnect with people, resume traveling the world, and begin buying tanking stocks like united airlines and exxon mobile. but that time isn’t now.

07.01.20

the end result

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:24 pm by Administrator

when i look upon what we are—nationalism, religion, rivalry, war, pollution, destruction, innovation, subjugation, and always underneath it all growth and diversification—i have to believe that there are ultimately only two paths forward for the human species. either we disrupt our current trajectory and restrain ourselves from the inevitable destruction of our ecological system, or we lean into this trajectory and experience a technological leap that transforms the species. the former would look like luddism, population control, and a rejection of global capitalism. the latter, i believe, can only look like the genetic re-engineering of humanity—a re-engineering that transforms our physical and mental capacities to the degree that we are able to fold space and colonize other worlds. i believe that these are the only two paths forward for humanity, as our current path is rapidly making our world uninhabitable for human life.

i actually believe that both paths are equally probable (or improbable). regarding the second possibility that some might consider the more fantastic scenario, i would argue that the end result of capitalism and technological “progress” really ought to be the genetic advancement of the species; if they do not ultimately achieve such a thing, then what was the point of it all? we are now poised to be able to genetically modify embryos to reduce predispositions to chronic illness, mental disease, and premature death; we can even clone human beings if we so choose. today there are ethical barriers to these advancements, mostly rooted in human mythologies and religions that value unnecessary human suffering. tomorrow, as the world progressively abandons religion, these ethical barriers will erode, affording our progeny the ability to dramatically alter the future capabilities of humanity. we owe it to ourselves to use the technologies we have gained to advance the species. of course there will be many different ideas about what direction mankind must take, but i think that nature more than any other factor will dictate this. as environmental toxins multiply, potable water decreases, and air becomes less breathable, we will be forced to produce progeny better adapted to these conditions; and when the time comes for us to leave this planet, we will need to create human beings better adapted to extraterrestrial life. millennia from now, we will discover potentially inhabitable planets, but none of them will remotely resemble this one; we will have to force our genetic evolution rapidly in order to adapt to dramatically different environmental pressures. the purpose of technology will be to accelerate what we used to experience over millions of years of natural selection.

i can’t imagine that we will restrain ourselves from embryotic genetic manipulation; but for those who find this inconceivable, i would argue that the only alternative to this future is a calculated reversal of the systems and approaches that have fueled global capitalism, technological advancement, and the pervasive dissemination of micro-plastics and carbon pollutants that imperil our sustainability as a species. this sea change can only be effected either by a global catastrophe that resets the human population and its relationship with technology or by a world government with the power and the will to crush “forward progress”. the latter is only likely to result from the former. in my mind, there’s no natural and incremental way to shift the destructive trajectory of humanity; for the level of change needed to save humanity from precipitating its own extinction, a “dark age” of unprecedented dismantlement is necessary.

even beyond the particulars, one has only to briefly step out from his or her immersion in our current way of being to see the calamitous idiocy of the way we are living. we’re like sheep being led to the slaughter. the clear scientific evidence of global warming, the rapid extinction of innumerable species just in the past hundred years, and the woeful tale of humanity’s unending obsession with nationalism, racism, and large-scale war all constitute a story of egoic madness, a fixation with self-destruction. we are a suicidal species. it’s in our genes; it’s in our death dreams. our greatest religions feature heroic men who essentially kill themselves. what sort of a life form are we exactly? i contemplate this sometimes and realize a deep and personal truth: that if i were given the choice after my death to be reincarnated in this world, i would probably not choose to return, as a human being or otherwise. how could we as conscious beings ever want to return to the constraint of human form, when the constraints of our human forms drive us to the madness that we call human civilization?

i used to believe that our innate weaknesses were actually our strengths, when i was a believer in mythologies. later, i wanted to believe that we could overcome our innate weaknesses through personal and spiritual growth. but now, i recognize that human history repeats itself, time and time again, because human beings as a species do not change. our best stories and tales do not translate to the accumulation of wisdom; they only serve to justify the tragic mistakes we repeat, as we propagate injustice, tyranny, cruelty, and mass murder through the centuries. no, the hope for humanity does not reside in silly religious tales, documents of law, or histories of our transgressions; it resides in the indelible transformation of our genetic code. we will not grow as a species until we change the biological basis of our species. until then, we are just consciousness trapped in a prison of weak minds and overpowering instincts.

i am mindful of the air i breathe and of the form i have taken. oh, how i grieve this form and all of its terrible ramifications! even as i delight in my fleeting life, i despair at its inevitable futility. consciousness deserves a better form; life should be fuller and better than it is, for each and every one of us. our ancestors were too primitive to afford us this gift, and so we find ourselves poor indeed; but perhaps we can endeavor to give this gift to those who will follow