Last Sunday I completed a 127 mile bike race through the Berkshires. Below can see the details of the race–the route, elevation gain, average speed, etc. What you can’t see, of course, is what really matters: how I felt, the beauty of the course and the challenges I faced. For those of you who haven’t been, the Berkshires are gorgeous year-round: lots of country roads, woods, streams, small bridges and expansive vistas. But in the Fall, the area takes on the hue of unabashed beauty; so-called “Leap Peepers” from all over the country travel here to check out the foliage, and the entire landscape explodes into a pastel of bleeding color.
As you can imagine, the designers of the race–called the Great River Ride–crafted a route that transports the riders along scenic roads which, as the name implies, often meander alongside the Westfield River. I got on the road at 6:15 AM, about 30 minutes before twilight. Much to my surprise (I should have read the weather report more carefully), it was a mere 28 degrees at the start; when combined with fog, mist and a chilly wind, suffice it to say that I was quite cold until well after the sun had come up and done a reasonable job of warming things up. In fact, I found myself constantly blowing on my fingers to prevent them from getting overly numb!
I’m an impatient person. A two-edged sword, to be sure: Capital Good Fund has grown as quickly as it has in no small part due to that impatience, but I have also made more than my fair share of dumb decisions, personally as well as professionally, because I couldn’t wait a bit. Depending on the time of day, and my mood, my impatience is either something of which I’m proud, or something I seek to change. Either way, it’s there–an element of my personality, as elemental, it seems, as hydrogen and carbon.
But let’s step back for a moment and ask what I think is one of the most important questions of them all: How long does it take to make change? In so many ways, the world is getting better–less poverty, hunger, war and disease, and more opportunity, health and democracy. But in so many others, we face problems that either must be solved urgently to be solved at all–namely, climate change–and those whose timetable represents for how long, and how much, poverty and injustice we are willing to accept.
Going for a lovely ride in Montreal
On August 21, 2008 I decided to see for how many consecutive days I could ride my bike at least one hour; 250 days later, the streak ended, not because I wanted to, but rather because I went to Bangladesh for three weeks and was therefore unable to ride (Here is the post I originally wrote about the streak). For the past four years my cycling mileage has gone up and down: sometimes I rode hundreds of miles a month, and sometimes I went months without riding. For the last 8 months, however, my mileage has skyrocketed. As I think about it, I realize that the amount of time I spend on my bike is in direct proportion to the amount of stress I experience at work; for me, cycling is the ultimate antidote to the exaustion and frustration inherent to running a nonprofit.
Like many people, I find that I am most motivated when I have a very clear goal in mind. Last year, for instance, I trained for the Great River Ride, a 110 mile race with nearly 9,000 feet of climbing through the Berkshires. I knew that unless I did a lot of long rides–especially rides with a good amount of climbing–I would be unable to complete it. I am proud to say that, though it took me nearly 9 hours and my right shoulder felt like it was going to fall off, I completed the event!
Here I am about to start the race!
And here are all the stats from the ride: Untitled_by_peacefullofl._._.armin_Connect_-_Details_.pdf
Image Credit: Senor Anderson
This morning Jake (my VP of Accounts), Rachel (my Head Financial Coach) and I drove out to the University of Rhode Island for a meeting with Dr. Jing Xiao, a professor of family finance at the university. The meeting was fantastic: Dr. Xiao is a leading expert in consumer financial behavior, and he had a lot of insight into ways in which we can strengthen our Randomized Control Trial (learn more about it here) and find more research into the efficacy of Financial Coaching programs. We also talked about the possibility of him, or a colleague of his, serving as an External Evaluator for the study, something we’ll need as we look to publish our findings in a peer-reviewed journal in early 2016.
Image credit: Mattrobs
“Write, damnit. Write.” This what the skywriter—that thorn in the poet’s side—has demanded of me, the ephemeral letters splattered across my mental sky. I am seated in my office. It is a lazy Friday; a long weekend is but hours from beginning. For the first time in weeks, my calendar is nearly empty, my inbox dealt with. I should be happy, relieved, relaxed…and yet I’m not. The monitor mocks me; the cool breeze outside tempts me. And as those grammatical clouds dissipate and disappear, a starker question is chiseled into the very folds of my brain: am I doing enough?
Let me back up. Around the age of 15 I was introduced to Romantic poetry and philosophy, that exuberant, excessive, rebellious and moody brand of living that holds so much appeal for a restless and idealistic young man. As the years progressed and the ideals of beauty, justice, truth and authenticity permeated my neurons and infiltrated my veins, a profound frustration began to emerge: all those around me cautioned that, with age, the ideals would lose their appeal, as though they were a tasty treat, now digested, relegated to a fate of excretion. What’s more, I was told that they would be replaced with “realism,” “pragmatism,” “cynicism” and other “isms,” save for the pleasurable ones: “orgasm,” “mysticism,” and so on.
Photo credit: kowitz
My favorite movie, The Dark Knight, starts off with a riveting bank heist. The Joker leads a group of robbers who, thanks to the Joker’s machinations, kill each other, one-by-one, as the job progresses. By the time the scene is done all involved, with the exception of the Joker, are dead, and the groundwork for the film’s moral battle between the Batman and the Joker is laid.
I have watched The Dark Knight, from start to finish, multiple times. I love everything about it: the dialogue, the dark, moody lighting, the plot, the acting. And perhaps because of my familiarity with the movie, something occurred to me the last time I sat down to enjoy it: never do we see blood spilled from those that are shot or beaten to death. Each murder is strangely antiseptic, cleaner than murder ought to be, or is.
Note: I am a Brown Alumnus (A.M. ‘09)
Last week New York Police Department (NYPD) Commissioner Raymond Kelly was invited to give a talk at Brown University titled “Proactive Policing in America’s Biggest City.” Kelly is an ardent believer in, and overseer of, the largely unpopular and controversial ‘Stop and Frisk’ policy in New York (Learn more about Stop and Frisk). Stop and Frisk allows a police officer to stop, question and frisk people, provided that there is a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. In practice, however, the policy systemically targets and harasses people and communities of color.
So when the Brown University student body, as well as the community at large, heard that Commissioner Kelly would be giving a talk on campus, there was considerable outrage and plans to protest. And sure enough, when the time came for the talk the protests were there to greet him: Kelly was shouted down and, after 20 minutes of being prevented to speak, left the stage. Responses to the incident consisted of predictable pablum: on the one side, protesters claiming that the implementer of a racist policy should not be given the opportunity to speak, and on the other side people, such as Brown President Christina Paxson, arguing that “The conduct of disruptive members of the audience [is] an affront both to civil democratic society and to the university’s core values of dialogue and the free exchange of views.”
A recent NPR story (‘If A Tech Company Had Built the Federal Health Care Website‘) on the disastrous rollout of the online health exchanges for Obamacare brought up an assumption that has become deeply ingrained in this country: namely, that the private sector can do things more effectively, efficiently and quickly than the government. In particular, the report talked about how companies like Facebook know how to roll out web-based services on a massive scale, whereas the government does not (ironically, Facebook has been having some technical issues today). The belief that if a Facebook or a Google were in charge of Healthcare.gov these glitches wouldn’t exist isn’t merely one shared by conservative Republicans; it’s something that many Americans have come to take for granted. Obviously the wizards of Silicon Valley can do it better!
So guess who actually built HealthCare.gov? Here’s a hint: it’s not Uncle Sam, but rather a private contractor, the global technology conglomerate CGI, that, according an article in The Guardian, is responsible for “the bulk of [the website’s] execution.” Wait a minute! What’s going on here? It turns out that the government has been increasingly outsourcing work to private contractors. In fact, according to the same article in The Guardian, titled ‘Obamacare website woes: another sign of out-of-control private contractors,’ “Government outsourcing to private contractors has exploded in the past few decades. Taxpayers funnels hundreds of billions of dollars a year into the chosen companies’ pockets, about $80bn of which goes to tech companies.”