King Arthur and the Stock Market

O Fortuna
velut luna
statu variabilis,
semper crescis
aut decrescis;
vita detestabilis
nunc obdurat
et tunc curat
ludo mentis aciem,
dissolvit ut glaciem.

O Fortune,
like the moon
you are changeable,
ever waxing
or waning;
hateful life
first oppresses
and then soothes
as fancy takes it;
and power
it melts them like ice.
–Carl Orff,
Carmina Burana,
O Fortuna (Stanza 1)

I was listening to an economist discuss projections of the market for 2018, and it struck me how much this reminded me of King Arthur. The connection? The medieval idea of the Wheel of Fortune, a prism which could help us view the world in proper context and settle our turbulent emotions just as it did centuries ago.

Now, this is not the game show with Pat and Vanna that has filled the after-dinner TV slot for decades. Although those who know about the enduring notion of Fortune surely find it amusing that this show has displayed such enduring popularity.

Illustration from John Lydgate’s Troy Book, f.30v

The basic idea of the Wheel of Fortune, if you recall from your world history days, is that those on top of the wheel — kings, rich men, landowners — enjoy the bounty of the earth, while the poor and the peasants struggle at the bottom. But the wheel always turns and even kings and emperors now high will eventually be struck low. We’ve seen this played out in history and can understand the dynamic. Dictators who overstep their power are brought down. Wealthy playboys waste the inheritance that their thrifty parents worked years to create. Meanwhile, others rise out of poverty to amass their own financial empire or to create their own new political followings. Continue reading “King Arthur and the Stock Market”

The Avocado Toast War

When I was trying to buy my first home, I wasn’t buying smashed avocado for $19 and four coffees at $4 each.
–THIS GUY*, Australian Real Estate Mogul

We are on the precipice of a full-scale war. The skirmishes are already under way at blogs, tweets, instagrammies, and facebook posts around the globe. While the world may be going to hell in a handbasket for other reasons, humanity is in high dudgeon over avocado toast. I might as well as join the party.

The instigator was THIS GUY (*who I refuse to name; you can google it if you want to give him the publicity) with his comment targeting the group we all love to bash, the Millennials. This 35 year old real estate mogul from Melbourne targeted Millennials on the Australian 60 Minutes by focusing on their passion for the luxuries of Avocado Toast, lamenting how it prevents them from properly purchasing a white picket fence house in the suburbs and having the 2.3 children that has been mythically dictated to be required for a good life.

Such comments raise so many questions. What is the price of avocados and, moreover, of avocado toast? What is the price of a house, and how does it compare to toast? Are millennials buying houses and, if not, why not? Who is THIS GUY? And, anyway, who asked him?

20170517 avocadotoast Continue reading “The Avocado Toast War”

Gradatim Ferociter

This past Saturday marked the 31st anniversary of the Challenger disaster, and it’s hard to resist the urge to still be depressed about it.  73 seconds after liftoff, the ship exploded, killing the seven astronauts including teacher Christa McAuliffe, who was to be the first civilian in space. Later analysis revealed the likely cause to be an O ring failure as a sealant due to unusual freezing temperatures before the launch. I’d like to think that the disaster led to new, safer ways to explore space or a determination to solve scientific problems in ways to benefit us all. But thirty years in, I’ve come to realize some of that is probably fantasy, and the reality is a mix of pessimism and pragmatism.

I remember exactly where I was: at the office on Montgomery Street in San Francisco, only six months into a job with a company I would eventually support for decades. In those “yuppy” days, we still wore suits and heels and spoke in hushed tones, as if every discussion were of utmost importance. In the middle of an intense debate over something on a spreadsheet, we noticed that everyone was suddenly going into the big conference room with the television, and on the screen was this odd blotch of smoke flowering outward. Whoever had been in the room first – to watch the launch initially – had to retell the story over and over as more people came out of their offices and cubicles to join the crowd. All you could see for several minutes was smoke blossoming further and NASA Houston mumbling something about “waiting to see,” until finally the news generated some kind of replay. Then, the announcers explained what had happened, and started replaying it over and over. We’re now used to that instant replay on a loop, but that was the first time I remember seeing it put to use. Continue reading “Gradatim Ferociter”

Can You Hear Me Now?

Aliens plop down on earth. Humans wonder what the aliens want. What do they want? How do humans know?  This is the conundrum created by many a science fiction movie and at the heart of the excellent new film that’s generating Oscar buzz, though little attention otherwise, Arrival.


There are a set number of possible options for an Alien Landing plot, many of which have formed the core famous and infamous science fiction premises. Often, the aliens mean harm or pretend to be nice but then mean harm OR some are nice but are fighting with others who mean harm. So getting eaten/enslaved/destroyed is a fairly likely occurrence. But then, how do humans know? Someone has to ask, and how do you speak to an alien?

As most movies are aimed at the lucrative 13-15 year old boy market, many Alien Landing plots involve the shoot first variety. If you google “Alien Invasion,” you can even see the top twenty or thirty of these movie types.  But Arrival is about the communication process itself. Since there is such a huge possibility that the aliens still might have nefarious intent, the armies surround the aliens and point guns at them. You can’t help but marvel at the stupid efficiency of the American army as it erects tents and hazmat facilities and communication centers without the slightest clue of whether any of that will be helpful. (Turns out most of it is not). They at least have the sense to bring in Amy Adams, who plays linguist Dr. Louise Banks, to bridge the communication gap.

Aliens Land Now What flowchart (kajmeister)

Continue reading “Can You Hear Me Now?”

Do Not Go Gentle Away from that Frenzy


This past Monday, September 19, the Japanese celebrated Respect for the Aged day.  It is called “keiro-no-hi,” chosen as the third Monday in September.  The celebration recommends sharing a special meal for the elderly, providing perhaps a musical presentation, and giving presents. The ecommerce website Rakuten, for example, suggests giving a kumquat tree or a hydrangea wreath.

The older I get, the more it seems we need this day. In America, we celebrate holidays that glorify the military, the labor force, religion, harvest, love, our country, our country’s dead presidents, our country’s dead inspirational leaders, the change of the season and the calendar—as well as the day that people are born. But we have no celebration aimed at the 1/6 of our population who are the wise elders. We celebrate “Grandparents,” but as an event the way that we celebrate “Secretaries” or “Administrative People” – primarily as a limited commercial boon for florists and card shops. We don’t respect the aging. We don’t celebrate getting older – we run and hide from it. Continue reading “Do Not Go Gentle Away from that Frenzy”