Moontower #56


When somebody asks how we are doing these days we give the same answer everyone else gives us. “We’re good. All things considered”. The truth is the “all things considered” qualifier feels slimy. On a relative basis, we are doing outright amazing. In the past month, U.S. jobless claims have surpassed 22 million. Meanwhile, my wife and I continue to work. In our pajamas no less. Maintaining a good job through this is a pick-6 from your own goal line. A 14-point swing if the placekickers are competent.

It’s not necessary or even rational but I feel a little guilty. I’ve even half-joked that instead of a virus that impacts low-wage workers disproportionately, we should have been dealt an EMP which halts “knowledge workers” [gag] from moving symbols around .xls and .py files.

I caught myself being more sensitive to interpreting memes from a lens of privilege. I am very aware of the role of luck in life, but if I’m getting a glimpse of what it’s like to see the world through an identity politics focus then take my eyes please. It doesn’t feel productive or virtuous.

Here are 2 examples.

1. Sourdough

I sent this to a NY friend who has been posting pics of his sourdough bread on IG. He’s a successful tech guy. Part of the WFH class. Also one of my best friends. I’m messing with him. (Not picking on @valueterminal either who I enjoy talking to).

But it’s so 2020 to interpret an isolated family’s desire and freedom to bake bread as anything more than an engaging boredom-breaker.

(Here’s the resulting self-skewering screenshot of our Whatsapp chat that my wife, Yinh, is also on.)

2. TikTok privilege

Our household is pretty obsessed with the Blinding Lights TikTok dance. And yet I can’t watch these vids and not notice the pimp pads many of these people live in. Or how white people seem overrepresented. I haven’t read anything about these things and I’m afraid to search. Because, again, I don’t think there’s any real social commentary here but I recognize how easily a sharp pen with an agenda could incite one. The fact that I’m even getting the privilege-vibe from watching these dances tells me there’s kindling within us that’s ready to flare if someone dropped a match.

An Equal-Opportunity Disappointer

If I have any ability to put myself in a reader’s shoes I’m guessing the conservative reader is tying their shoes for a victory lap. I just pointed out how ridiculous social justice warriors can be right?

Nope. I’m going to disappoint you. These superficial examples of “privilege” discourse are actually the mental Frankensteins you get when actual social justice is perverted.  These examples are ammo for social justice detractors to lump good activism with bad activism. I’m not an expert on this stuff but there’s a wide spectrum between sourdough-signaling theories and 1960s civic reforms. I think conservatives sometimes fail to see the difference. I know it’s hard to believe, but you can have gold bars without thinking everyone is trying to take them.

And if I’m feeling my way through the dark of my confused feelings the far-left deserves a scolding. These examples are nonsense. The result of under-employed English PhDs crying wolf. You undermine your own cause (the sincerity of which is questionable anyway). If I can’t enjoy an 80s retro synth groove without thinking my AirPods were christened in the sweat of a Chinese peasant who could have sung as soulfully as the Weeknd if he just didn’t have to spend 16 hours a day in a factory, then excuse me for feeling a bit gaslighted.

Now that I’ve insulted everyone let’s turn to something more productive.

Giving Back and Guilt

Guilt can be useful. A thought on giving back. Probably an unpopular take.

Complaining about virtue-signaling when people are public in their giving is stupid. Yes, we all know the giver gets a status rebate. So what? Is the social pressure it creates not worth it? Charity auctions with their pomp and paddles work for a reason. A GoFundMe donor rollcall might lead you to pull out your credit card.

Pressure works. There’s probably rules of decorum around this. Some Downton Abbey restraint. Brazen virtue-signaling is gross. But I also find the backlash to virtue-signaling gets me kinda itchy too. So I’ve decided it’s personal. Best to check my reflex on how people do their charity. There are tradeoffs to being Victorian about it and tradeoffs to being pushy about it.

The view I’ve settled on:

You don’t need to announce what you do but you needn’t work too hard to hide it. At the very least show your kids what you do. My mother never had much but she always gave and I noticed. Don’t feel guilty in vain. Channel it. You’ve heard the whole “don’t let perfect be enemy of the good”. I say don’t even let coherence be enemy of the good.

Related: A Simple Rule for Giving (Link)

For a nearly 1000 year old view, here are the philosopher Maimonides’ thoughts on charity that I pulled from Jake Taylor’s Rebel Allocator. Maimonides understood the giver and receiver must be considered.

In ascending format, there are eight levels:

8. When donations are given grudgingly.
7. When one gives less than he should, but does so cheerfully.
6. When one gives directly to the poor upon being asked.
5. When one gives directly to the poor without being asked.
4. Donations when the recipient is aware of the donor’s identity, but the donor still doesn’t know the specific identity of the recipient.
3. Donations when the donor is aware to whom the charity is being given, but the recipient is unaware of the source.
2. Giving assistance in such a way that the giver and recipient are unknown to each other. Communal funds, administered by responsible people are also in this category.
1. The highest form of charity is to help sustain a person before they become impoverished by offering a substantial gift in a dignified manner, or by extending a suitable loan, or by helping them find employment or establish themselves in business so as to make it unnecessary for them to become dependent on others.

The Money Angle

I started compiling notes on finance stuff about 4 years ago. I lurked on Twitter to learn. Weighing arguments, curating reliable sources. All in service of building a coherent tree trunk of knowledge that I could branch from. On one hand, it was chasing adjacent knowledge from my native option trading background. But it was also practical. How I can learn to manage our own money better?

About 2 years ago on a trip to Vancouver with college friends I wrote a short essay on the flight. I showed it to my friends and they affirmed it reflected how they felt about money. They encouraged me to write and share. The essay is called Does This Sound Like You?

Since then it has been my intention to consolidate and create some flow around my learning so I could share it publically. The newsletter and blog show bits and pieces but I’ve wanted to create a more coherent wiki. A more polished version of my personal wiki.

With some encouragement and guidance from my friend Khe, I’m building a public version in Notion (Khe is a Jedi btw, if you are trying to level up your productivity you need to hit him up). It will be a reference filtered by what I think matters. It will have relevance for households as well as institutions. I have no clue how long it will take to port it all in a consumable way (there’s a lot of content) but I’ll prioritize expediency. As a wiki, it’s a living document anyway.

I have 2 overarching beliefs which are neatly reflected in how my private wiki is organized.

1. Human capital is your most important capital.

This is most obvious when you are young. We don’t worry when a 23-year-old dentist has $150k in debt because it’s backed by human capital. This wiki will include all my explorations for improving how I think. It will include the self-help stuff that has worked for me. I expect this section of the wiki will be published second. It’s more fun but also more speculative.
2. Financial capital should be governed by process

  • Get a basic understanding of levers. Basic does not have to mean naive. That’s why I wanted to do this project.
  • Implement a framework.
  • Meta-tweaks: decide the conditions under which you will make tweaks. Because the ultimate goal is to get on with your life. Not keep tinkering with your investments (unless that’s what you like doing).

Your money is in service of you. Not the other way around.

A Brief Intro to The Moontower Money Wiki
The wiki is initialized and you can see the headings that will be populated at least to start. There will be branches of topics and subtopics. (Link)

Continuing from last week, the first entry is Defining the Problem which includes the retirement model. I think that’s a good starting point because that exercise is like a diagnostic on not just your situation, but your understanding of the problem.

Putting this together has been a long-overdue project. I hope you find it useful and I’m gracious I have many smart readers that can give feedback which in turn helps out the other readers. 95% of all the content and work belongs to others, I’m just acting like a GC on a construction project. I hope it’s worthy of the efforts that inspired it.

Last Call

  • The founder of Barstool Sports is a colorful character. He decided to daytrade through the chaos. This video is titled Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Trading In Two Minutes. Enjoy. (Link)
  • I sometimes talk about board games as education tools. Kathleen Mercury teaches game design to gifted kids in the St. Louis area. Her views inspire me. Like spirit-animal level. I compiled some lessons from her. My twitter thread has highlights as well as something else I’m working on.
  • Monetary stimulus is often seen as regressive while fiscal stimulus (like cutting $1200 checks) is progressive or at least less regressive. Matt Stoller breaks down the Cantillion effect which makes the case that how regressive a policy is depends on the institutional structure of the nation where money is printed. It goes back to when money was created by gold discoveries. There’s also a secondary effect. How the creation of money leads to the eroding of a nation’s manufacturing base. (Link)
  • The fewer wants there are screaming inside your brain and dividing your attention, the more peace and satisfaction will be left for what you already have. This Arthur Brooks piece about the 3 equations for a happy life really resonated. (Link)
  • Bedroom guitarists shredding to Blinding Light. I love this stuff. Here and here.

From my actual life 

I went on Nextdoor to ask if anyone had a bike laying around for Zak. Within 12 hours I was offered 5 bikes. “I’ll leave them at the top of the driveway” everyone said. Nextdoor is pretty cool this way. But alas there’s the privilege thing again. I just guessed neighbors would rather give away a bike rather than deal with the hassle of selling it. I presumed correctly because I feel the same way. We are always giving stuff away on ND ourselves.

(Random aside: we have made several very good friends from some of these handoffs. One couple stands out who reads this letter. I won’t say the item. It was very personal and would make many readers eyes bulge)

Back to the bikes. I ended up grabbing 2 bikes. One with 16″ tires for Zak (almost 7) and 14″ for Max (almost 4).  It’s getting late so I just inflate all the tires and we go to bed.

The next morning I notice Zak’s bike has a flat already. I found out a local bike shop is open to figure I’ll just buy a new tube after work. Around 10 am I pop in to check on how Zak’s schoolwork is going. He mentions in passing, “I can ride a bike now daddy”. Turns out, that morning he hopped on Max’s smaller bike and just figured out how to ride.

I had 2 reactions.

First, pure joy. Seeing your kid ride a bike for the first time is just great. Same feeling I had when I saw him really swim for the first time. Made my day. Made my week really. He’s been bolting outside to ride every day. Just pure.

The second reaction is just a self-reminder to chill the f out. By suburban standards, he was “late” to riding a bike. When I asked him if he told his friends on the class Zoom call that he could ride, he snapped “Daddy, all my friends already know how to ride a bike”. I suspected that but played dumb.

We gave riding a bike a shot last year and he was scared and resistant. I left it alone. Didn’t feel like battling. But riding a bike turned out to be like potty-training. At some point, they are just ready. And when that happens they learn the same day. Both boys were potty-trained pretty late in age. But it took one day.

One of the jokes around here is that I’m the laid back one and Yinh is type-A (I say joke but believe me this leads to its share of, ahem, “misunderstandings”). But when you combine us it’s like multiplying by a negative…the result is just laid-back. I’m not sure if there’s a lesson in there, but sometimes it’s probably just useful to remember that it would take an extraordinary effort for someone to grow up and NOT know how to use a toilet.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a pic of me acting like my beard ain’t grey. On Wednesday, Yinh and I attended one of her friend’s 40th birthday Zoom party. I wore buttons for the first time in a month. Sia’s choreographer led us through 20 minutes of dancing. Relax, the bottles were just used as props. Like I said, it was Wednesday.

I guess we think the names of the days still matter. Also I’m from NY, the “B” isn’t for Boston. Maybe Bitcoin.

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