Investing can get heavy at times, and the news is not always good. We look at the risk of war over oil, the damage that special interests have done to American wealth by paying politicians to squander the nation’s treasure, persistent unemployment, and other macro factors that can get a little depressing at times.
That’s why at the conclusion of each letter, I write an end note that usually has nothing to do with investing. It’s a time to take a deep breath and realize that managing our money is not all there is to our time on this planet. Many subscribers tell me they look forward to the end note each week, and I hope you will, too.
Please enjoy the following samples.
From the October 4, 2009 Issue:
That’ll do it for this week.
This job requires a critical eye toward American government, the Federal Reserve, and the shortcomings of hybrid capitalism. It’s easy to get cynical about the US, especially when living overseas and looking from afar while being surrounded by outside opinions of the place, so many of which are negative. Every once in a while, though, something happens to remind us American expatriates of what we love about home.
It happened to me just last night. I went to a soul music concert in one of Sano’s chic restaurants, headlined by a singer named Paris Lundon from Tennessee, who was backed up by a bass guitar player named James from New York City and a local pianist named Kentaro Sekiguchi. The staid audience of well-to-do locals showed up in the same attire they wear to city hall meetings, and when they arrived they had on the same facial expressions, too. As the band got going and Paris worked the crowd, only a couple people loosened up and fewer still cracked smiles or clapped in rhythm. Nobody quite “got it,” you could tell.
Finally, in exasperation, Paris looked to the back wall where I sat on my usual leather sofa drinking Chianti, and asked somebody to get up and dance. He was obviously asking me. Believe it or not, your editor shakes a leg now and then, so I rose to help the poor guy out. I grabbed a nearby cutie and told her to just follow my lead. She did, too. She spun here, stepped there, flew out, came back, and all by just going with it. Meanwhile, Paris found an extra ounce of energy for the show when seeing somebody into it, and the night played out well. The audience finally came to its feet, finally clapped, finally realized there’s more to soul than just sitting around.
After the show, the band joined me, and other people from the audience gathered around. Paris and James thanked me. Paris said, “I knew you were American the second I laid eyes on you, and I knew you’d feel the music.” Just hearing American English from him and James took me home. The slang, the idioms, the way we joke. I told James he spoke English well, and he shot back, “Well, I’ve been practicing.” If I compliment a Japanese person on their Japanese, they reply dryly, “Of course. I’m Japanese.” They never get that it’s a joke.
Just as fun was the excitement of the spectators around Paris, James, and me, all of them trying their best to communicate with their special visitors. One man, a local dentist, said in adorably awful English, “I love America! I have an American spirit!” He wanted to shake hands. As we did, I thought, “So do I, buddy, on both counts.”
Yours very truly,
From the October 25, 2009 Issue:
It’s easy to get caught up in the parts of life beyond our control, to worry about the dollar or the market or various government policies. Whenever the scene looks overwhelming, I try to remember that it’s been far more overwhelming in the past and humanity has muddled through. No matter what happens to the currency of any nation, mountains will still stand tall and oceans will still lap shores.
I’ve mentioned quite a few times that I find solace in nature. Playing with animals that don’t know or care what’s in the news is refreshing. I like listening to the sound of flowing water in rivers that have been in place since before America was a country, while sitting on rocks that were created before Jesus was born. Those kinds of things keep me grounded.
Another place I’ll occasionally wander in search of permanence is somewhere spiritual made by human beings. I like such hideaways because they show that a significant portion of people don’t care much what happens on Wall Street or in government. In America, I liked sitting in the pews of gorgeous Catholic cathedrals or on one of the stone steps in the small St. Malo Chapel On The Rock at the foot of Mt. Meeker, where I grew up serving as an altar boy. In Japan, the smell of incense at temples is a reminder that life ends, and should be appreciated in its brevity.
So, when I write about markets either positively or negatively, know that I’m aware of my subject’s place as just a tiny sliver of what comprises your life. I hope you, too, realize that market disposition has little to do with life disposition. Thank goodness for that!
From the June 6, 2010 Issue:
I’ve heard dire environmental predictions about the future of the Gulf, and we’re all worried about what’s going to happen to the ecosystem there as a result of the oil leak. Remember, some 40 percent of US wetlands are in Louisiana, and the oil leak has reached them.
What’s even more saddening to me, however, is that it takes such a shocking news headline as the BP leak to alert people to the steady destruction of Earth’s habitat. If you want to get really depressed, read any day about the ongoing catastrophes in overfishing, mountain-top mining, clear-cutting, species extinction, urban sprawl, and other eco disasters. The planet is under extreme assault from every direction. What gets lost in the details is that all fronts share a common origin: human activity. It won’t stop, because the human population is expanding, not shrinking or stabilizing, and the highest rate of growth is happening among the groups least concerned with conservation. Most are not even aware of the issue.
Yet, we miss a key point whenever we say that we’re “destroying the earth.” We’re not. We’re destroying our ability to live on it. At the end of the gone glaciers, extinct animals, and expired habitats awaits our own demise. If and when the human phase of Earth’s history concludes, the planet will reduce evidence of our time to a thin layer of rock for future somethings to discover, or not.
Earth is about 4.5 billion years old. Modern human history began about 5,000 years ago with most of the damaging inventions and dangerous population levels appearing in the past century. Picture some crisis wiping all of us and other major forms of life out. Create whatever worst-case scenario is believable to you, and imagine that the planet becomes a barren ball of microorganisms. There’s still water and ice and volcanic activity, however, just as there were in ages past.
From your experience with bugs and weeds and worms, imagine how quickly something would get busy again. When we talk of a “long” time, we’re usually referring to 100 years or 1000 years. To be generous, let’s say a million years — 200 times longer than recorded human history — went by before anything like teeming oceans and vibrant jungles appeared again. Even a million years would be just 0.02 percent of Earth’s lifetime. If the planet were a 50-year old man, the time to get back to a happy environment would consume just 3.7 days of his life. Basically, humanity gone wrong is to Earth what a mild cold is to a 50-year-old man.
The planet will be fine. Whether we will be is another question.
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