Turns out 'passive' isn't so passive, after all

Ben Steverman, for Bloomberg:

Joe Brennan, the head of the firm’s equity index group, likens managing an index fund to a game of darts—one in which both the player and the target are constantly moving. Money rolls into Vanguard’s funds almost every day, and that cash has to be put to work. The funds must match hundreds of small shifts in their underlying indexes, caused by corporate actions such as acquisitions and share issuances. “We have to deliver perfection every day,” Brennan says. “Sometimes you have to deliver perfection-plus.”
In theory, the best an index fund can do is the return of the benchmark minus the fund’s fees. In reality, a fund faces additional costs from trading and transactions that can widen the gap between the returns of a fund and those of its benchmark. Success or failure is measured in tiny increments. “A basis point to us is a huge deal,” O’Reilly says.

I suppose it's ironic that I feel compelled to share this article now, given my recent departure from the finance sector, but credit where it's due - I had not fully appreciated the complexity and effort involved in maintaining an index fund that simply follows the market. Intuitively, it's a simple instrument that could perhaps be totally automated - but in reality, it takes skill and clever maneuvering to balance things appropriately and leverage various tricks to keep expense ratios at rock-bottom.

Design everything on the assumption that people are not heartless or stupid, but marvelously capable, given the chance.
— John Chris Jones

A turn towards the east, and then, a jump

Today is my last day working at State Street Global Markets. In two weeks, I begin a new journey with Docent Health, a startup that's aiming to remove the pain, and introduce much-needed empathy, into the experience of healthcare.

I'm ready to do some good.

Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.
— Theodore Roosevelt

Noted: Brand New

I visit this blog (an outcropping of Under Consideration) every now and then. Living in Boston, I'm surrounded by an uncountable number of advertisements and logos, and it's always an interesting thought exercise to critique the marks, and then dismantle them in an effort to reverse-engineer the thought process that led the creator(s) to design in such a way.

Admittedly, I'm probably pretty bad at that latter bit, not having too extensive a creative background. But I can appreciate when a seasoned designer speaks to the same sort of analysis.

Jenée Desmond-Harris, Vox:

“Burkini? A Wetsuit but there’s ‘burk’ in it so it’s forbidden. Undress yourself” 
That’s just one part of the text on a powerful illustration by an artist who goes by @LaSauvageJaune on Twitter, which astutely depicts the way that women around the world risk scorn and moral judgment for almost any choice they make about their appearances.

It was good of Vox to publish this piece, because they rightly identified an underreported aspect of this 'burkini' story: the whole debacle has less to do with what it purports to be about - conservative Islamic influence seeping into secular Western culture - and more to do with the simpler, more sinister reality that women are so judged and stereotyped by what they wear, to the point that we see frivolous, demeaning and categorically sexist laws created wholly to control their appearance. Even if the justification paradoxically has nothing to do with the women themselves, or the appearance in and of itself.

The whole genesis of this debate arrived under the pretense of the idea that the burkini was regressive towards the liberties of women, forcing them to conform to a controlling Islamic influence. But if you look past the thinly-veiled Islamophobia present in that loaded conjecture (which implies that a burka is a universal garment of shame brandished upon helpless and hapless female Muslims), the actual impetus for their invention was all about enabling Muslim women to more freely participate in western society/culture. It allowed for greater integration, diversity, and exposure. It's hardly enabling or harboring the sorts of opportunities for Muslim women that the Islamic State would enthusiastically put their seal of approval on. So the sole argument in favor of the (thankfully now-dead) burkini ban was illogical at best, and more likely insincere.

I'd go one step further and assert that the ban was worse yet, being counterproductive to the goals of those who were advocating for it in the first place. I don't think I have to say much to make a convincing argument that having police officers accost women, and force them to strip down in public view, does much more to segregate and harbor hostility and 'radicalism' than not having the ban to begin with.

The blatant sexism of this controversy is unsettling, and it is disappointing that few seem to establish that point upfront. This sort of discourse would never take place regarding what Muslim men might choose to wear. If this was really about the supposed infiltration of the boogeyman of radical Islam, you'd think that the conversation would be about something other than bathing suits. The proposition that a little more fabric on the beach is going to dismantle the values of Western culture is - to put it bluntly - a tad ridiculous.

The Olympics weren't a catastrophe, but the Paralympics are setting themselves up to be.

Aamna Mohdin, Quartz:

International Paralympic Committee chief executive officer Xavier Gonzalez praised London for delivering the “best-ever Paralympics Games” and challenged Rio to build on the success of the 2012 Games. But with the Rio Olympics now over, paralympic athletes will soon arrive to a city woefully unprepared. Only 12% of available tickets for next month’s Paralympics in Rio have been sold—that is a total of 300,000. The Paralympics start on Sept. 7.
As a result, the Paralympic Games are facing major budget cuts, which will affect the venues, workforce, and transport. Organizers were two weeks late in paying €8 million ($9 million) in travel grants, which was meant to support competing athletes and officials.


The future is now.

When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams — this may be madness. To seek treasure where there is only trash. Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be.
— Dale Wasserman's Man of La Mancha

In light of today, I feel compelled to share this speech by Robert F. Kennedy, as he addressed a largely black audience in Indianapolis and shared news of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. - news that most in the audience were not aware of at the time. He had no prepared remarks - only brief notes, scribbled on the way to the event - and the scraps he did hold in his hands, he never read from.

He spoke from the bed of a pickup truck, in a poor and predominantly African-American neighborhood, against the advice of the city's police chief, who implored him not to go. He was supposed to be there for a campaign stop. But he knew that wasn't his purpose that day.

That night, rioting ensued in cities across the United States. Except in Indianapolis, where RFK spoke.

Kennedy himself would be assassinated two months later.

This is the history that was invoked today. We should not take it lightly. We should not forget it.

The Tail End

Tim Urban, Wait But Why:

What I’ve been thinking about is a really important part of life that isn’t spread out evenly through time—something whose [already done / still to come] ratio doesn’t at all align with how far I am through life:
I’ve been thinking about my parents, who are in their mid-60s. During my first 18 years, I spent some time with my parents during at least 90% of my days. But since heading off to college and then later moving out of Boston, I’ve probably seen them an average of only five times a year each, for an average of maybe two days each time. 10 days a year. About 3% of the days I spent with them each year of my childhood...
When you look at that reality, you realize that despite not being at the end of your life, you may very well be nearing the end of your time with some of the most important people in your life. If I lay out the total days I’ll ever spend with each of my parents—assuming I’m as lucky as can be—this becomes starkly clear:
It turns out that when I graduated from high school, I had already used up 93% of my in-person parent time. I’m now enjoying the last 5% of that time. We’re in the tail end.

The past few months have been a challenging period for me, as I've re-prioritized certain things, and worked feverishly on others. One of those objectives has been that of trying very hard to spend more time with family, however possible - through visits, phone calls, and the like. This post captures the urgency and importance of that effort with remarkable clarity.

You know, it's such a damaging thing, that intuition and habit of taking for granted what we have. I love my family very much, but it took their illness for me to understand how precious my time with them really is. Across all of my relationships with people, there will be a moment after which I won't be able to call them, or be with them, or tell them how much I care about them. Will I have expressed everything I've wanted to, by then? Will I have given them everything I could have? Will I have made the biggest positive imprint on them and their lives?

What about you, and the people you care about?

Maybe you can never be prepared for saying goodbye. Time-boxing isn't exactly something we do with our relationships. Perhaps we should live as if we're always saying goodbye, though, just in case.

...Recent meditations have revealed to me how, in so many dimensions, I've allowed myself to live and operate under the assumption that I am an inherently good person, and that I do the best thing for myself and others as a matter of course, unencumbered by shallowness, or thoughtlessness, or impulse. But as a consequence of this mental model, I ensured that I wouldn't ever be my best self - and that the people I care about more than anything would suffer as a result. Even in seemingly subtle ways, like not spending as much time with them as I should. Sometimes in more brazen ways, though, like acting without empathy or affection.

We never stumble into our own potential. But we stumble past it constantly, when we're apathetic, or uncareful, or reckless, or worse. Needless to say, I'm not going to let myself do that anymore - or, at the very least, I'll do my best to avoid stumbling, through continuous and deliberate good.