Dividends

I remember the first time I got a dividend payment. It was from Compagnie Financière Richemont. One day in the mail I got a one inch wad of super-complicated foreign exchange forms (the dividend was in Swiss Francs) and a thick glossy catalogue which also doubled as the company financials. Before then I’d only ever traded commodities. I’d perused the forms, briefly. And then decided it was too much work and went back to killing stuff on Playstation.

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Δ We may have lost the cultural revolution… but we have a baseball team on our money.

The second time I got a dividend it was infinitely more exciting than the first. Post event I decided that maybe I liked this dividend thing after all. Money sorta just appeared in my account and I didn’t have to do anything. Who doesn’t like free money?

Wait… what exactly is a dividend?

A dividend happens when a company makes sooooooooo much money that they don’t actually know what to do with it. Like when they sell a pair of shoes that cost them 10 rupees and a sandwich to make but what they’re actually selling is a fictional narrative for $165.  At some point during the year the head honchos all get together and, after strippers, blow and some self-congratulatory back slapping, they ink out a corporate strategy on the back of a napkin and then decide to distribute all that money to shareholders. 

I jest. Sometimes they do this in a smoky walnut panelled room at a country club. 

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Δ Plastic surfer-money. From the country that brought you MasterChef. And Steve Irwin. Not pictured. RIP.

I suppose it depends on what sort of investor you are. Or maybe how you feel about how you make your money. If you even care. I tend to flip-flop between liking dividends and then not liking them.

Declaring a dividend, for me at least, is often a sign of poor management. People so devoid of imagination or work ethic that instead of reinvesting that money in the company they would rather just give it away. It underscores a huge problem in the higher echelons of the corporation. The top management is unlikely to be around for the next cycle. Generally speaking when you’re at the pinnacle point in that environment you are also nearing your expiry date. You need to make hay while the sun shines. If the company doesn’t have enough reserves for the next trough, that will be someone elses problem.

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Δ Be the change you want to see in the world – Mohandas Gandhi.  Also these are not my sandals.

And so, companies pay dividends. Its a double edged sword. Sure I like that ‘free’ money. But I would also like it if the company I owned shares in took that money and did something constructive with it. Ie. Diversified its income streams to be a more robust earner, bought back some of its shares, bought a competitor or even just saved that money for a rainy day.

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Ultimately we as stakeholders live for the day and we would much rather eat the cupcake now than have the promise of two cupcakes later. Thats just how we roll.

This blog post was inspired by StealthyWealth who upsets me with his continuous optimism and cheery disposition. I can’t really fault him on anything else though.

 

Embracing the suck

‘It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows’ – Epictetus

One of the (many) disappointing things about getting older is realizing all the things that you used to believe are no longer true. Spoiler alert. There is no Santa Claus. I am also starting to doubt the authenticity of a mega-fauna Sylvilagus that has been perennially dispensing chocolate eggs since the dawn of time. I’m also convinced there are no real ‘adults’ either, just a lot of people playing pretend. The older I get the less I know, which makes me yearn for my youth where I knew everything. I also wish I could still hang upside down on the monkey bars without something snapping in my back.

Being a prisoner in my own life I try to use my hour of ‘free-time’ before I go to bed as efficiently as possible. In lieu of killing-stuff on PlayStation I now try and further myself by reading books that make me feel stupid. I’m desperately trying to emulate my heroes. Theodore Roosevelt’s favorite poem is the Nibelungenlied (the story of Siegfried the Dragon-slayer) which he read in the original German. Jan Smuts loved Prometheus Unbound by Shelly and read Greek Tragedies in their original format. Joey likes… Tintin. The Calculus Affair is my favorite.

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Behold my Kryptonite *hits head on the edge of his desk* If ever there was something that can tear any remnants of ego from the dark recesses of my brain this is it. This book is making me feel more stupid than I ever thought possible.

I read it line by line and think, oh that’s a nice line or cool word combination. But by the end of the page (which takes me about five minutes) I can’t remember what happened at the top of the page. Let alone the previous page. I mean I have a general sense… that God was hanging out with his Arch Angles and Mephistopheles comes to visit and that God says ‘Want to bet you can’t tempt Faust?’ And Mephistopheles says ‘Hold my beer’. But the nuances are generally lost on me.

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This book is kicking my butt. I can confidently attest to Epictetus that he shouldn’t worry, I don’t really know anything about anything.

I get the sense that I could read this entire book, spend all this time and only ever understand it from a Wikipedia summary point of view. I would never be able to have an intellectual conversation about it. I find that quite disheartening as it starkly illustrates my limitations.

‘It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.’ -Theodore Roosevelt

To be fair I am at least trying. And that’s something. Even if it does feel like an exercise in futility. I just wish I was a bit smarter.

Trolley Problems

I love trolley problems. A trolley problem is basically a thought experiment in ethics. The basic premise is as follows:

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Δ A trolley or railway car has broken loose and is careening down a slope towards a group of five children playing on the tracks.

IMG_6448.JPGΔ Jack happens to standing at a fork in the tracks. He sees the runaway trolley heading towards the group of children. He realizes he can pull the switch changing the the track configuration and setting the trolley onto a side spur saving the children.

Only he can see that there is a lone railway worker working on the side spur. If Jack pulls the lever the railway worker will undoubtedly be killed. But if he doesn’t pull the lever then the runaway railcar will plow into the group of children killing them.

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Δ What does Jack do? Does he pull the lever and move the trolley onto the side spur?

IMG_6449.jpgΔ Or doesn’t he pull the lever and the railcar slams into the group of children?

There is no right or wrong answer to a trolley problem. Its how people grapple with the moral choice of deciding who lives and who dies and how they justify their actions that make trolley problems so interesting.

Re: emergence

I’ve been oscillating between tepid self-pity and what I muse might be genuine depression. It’s a limbo-esque purgatory where nothing much happens. I vaguely remember passing the time in an isolationist tendency, drinking more than the daily-recommended dietary intake of caffeine, listening to heavy metal and taking a rather dim view of the happenings in the universe.

A curious effect of this condition is that you hate everything you’ve ever written. You grimace at the drivel you’ve committed to text and you’re largely mortified by the inanity of your thoughts. You feel the overwhelming urge to violently purge everything and start over on the compacted ashes of your previous so-called creativity.

And you would, if only taking a scythe to it didn’t feel like a lot of effort and thus contrary to the sedentary melancholy you’ve carefully crafted for yourself. If you neglect it long enough, maybe, it will just go away.

Only this time, on dragging myself out from underneath my rock, I’ve decided not to raze my blog but rather leave it as marker to the cessation of ego. If such a thing is even possible he wondered out loud. That’s not to say I won’t eventually go back and pull out some of the weeds and perhaps exercise some heavy handed editing, but for now it remains intact.

I suddenly decided I didn’t really like my blog. It felt combative and preachy and often mean-spirited. The ability to bash and critique someone via a pseudonym on the Internet is something I dislike about the medium. It invalidates the processes we as humanity have created for settling disputes. Instead of fisticuffs and duelling pistols at dawn we resort to anonymous largely abbreviated and incomplete sentences propped up with profanity, which are worryingly devoid of grammatical accoutrements, all tightly packed into the comments section below that which offends us. I think we would be more inclined to moderate ourselves if trolling someone included the possibility of a painful, feverish, septic death from a 0.58-inch lead ball wedged inopportunely between our stomach and large intestine.

‘I largely disagree with your point of view, however, I don’t feel strongly enough about it that I am willing to wake up early and before breakfast trudge out to a damp field and risk a vaguely spherical lead ball impacting and shattering my face’

IMG_6391.jpgΔ Reproduction of Eugene Onegin’s duel as penned by Alexander Pushkin circa 1878

And so, ashamed by my own hypocrisy I unreservedly apologize for all the mean things I have said and potentially intimated through inference and innuendo.

Having said that, going forward, I will attempt to be, if not nice then at least try and cultivate something resembling Greek apatheia about the things I blog about. Lately I have been trying to infuse this stoic principle into my decision making process as a kind of mental firmware. I’d like to be able to say that it’s been a seamless transition from emotional decision making to the cold hard logic of a Vulcan. Unfortunately I seem to be defective or possibly regressive in so far as I am unable to spread my fingers in the iconic V fashion. I can however roll my tongue, which apparently 30% of the population can’t do. I can only hope that a future evolutionary narrowing favours tongue rollers as opposed to Cos-players.