David Swensen, Who Revolutionized Endowment Investing, Dies at 67 – The New York Times

David Swensen, a money manager who gave up a lucrative Wall Street career to oversee Yale University’s endowment and proceeded to revolutionize endowment investing, in the process making Yale’s the best-performing fund in the country over a 20-year period, died on Wednesday in New Haven, Conn. He was 67.

His wife, Meghan McMahon, said the cause was kidney cancer, which he had since 2012. He died at Yale New Haven Hospital.

Mr. Swensen’s innovation at Yale was to shift endowment investing from a formulaic menu of stocks and bonds to a portfolio that included hedge funds and even timberlands. When he took over at Yale in 1985, the endowment was worth $1.3 billion. Since then it has grown to $31.2 billion, passing those at both Princeton and the University of Texas and trailing only Harvard University’s.

Mr. Swensen was particularly proud of how the growing endowment had helped the university contribute to financial aid. . . . “

Margaret Renkl | Mother’s Day Can Be Painful. It Can Also Reconnect Us to the World. – The New York Times

“A contributing Opinion writer based in Nashville who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South.

Mother’s Day is still nearly a week away, but there are buds on the antique rambling rose that my mother rooted for me from her grandmother’s rose, and it will be in full bloom by Sunday, as it always is on Mother’s Day. My husband will make brunch. Our adult children will come over, and we’ll bring my husband’s 92-year-old father over, too, because he lives for family gatherings and has felt the loss of them more acutely than any of us. We’re all vaccinated now, but we won’t soon forget how it feels to be kept apart.

Mother’s Day has always cast a shadow of sadness for me, even before the pandemic turned every day into a memento mori. My paternal grandmother died before I was born, when Dad was only 24. He always threw himself into making Mother’s Day brunch a special event for Mom — and for her mother and grandmother — but he never stopped mourning his own mother, the one for whom I am named.

So I learned early on what a loaded holiday this can be. It’s terrible for those who mourn a mother now gone, and also for those whose mothers were just not equipped to nurture a child. It’s terrible for women who desperately wanted to be mothers but couldn’t be, and also for women who didn’t want to be mothers but are too often vilified for that perfectly reasonable choice. It’s beyond terrible for women who have lost a child.

I have family and friends who struggle on Mother’s Day for all these reasons. I think of them when I think, as I inevitably do on this day in May, of how much I miss my mother. The world has enough suffering in it without inventing a holiday that causes so much pain, and I would gladly eradicate it from the calendar if I could.

But painful as it can be, Mother’s Day also reminds me of how wondrously motherhood unites me with so much of the animal kingdom. My youngest child outgrew being a hip baby 20 years ago, but I have to stop myself from reaching out for a crying infant in the checkout line, and I swear I feel the urge to protect the hatchlings in my nest box as deeply as their mother does. We are partners in this enterprise of bringing baby bluebirds into the world, she and I, no matter that she doesn’t know it.

The need to protect and nurture young is a biological imperative shared by a surprising array of creatures. Ambivalence about the holiday notwithstanding, I will gladly play every cute-animal video and click through every cute-animal slide show that crops up on the internet at this time of year. Who could resist the lioness purring as she licks her cub’s belly, or a fox carrying her kit to safety by the scruff of its neck, or a giant-taloned hawk carefully nudging her curious eyas back beneath the safety of her breast?

I’m especially fond of the nurturing animals that we don’t associate with nurturing at all: the wolf spider carrying her tiny spiderlings on her back, the alligator tenderly carrying her baby in her mouth, the timber rattlesnake protectively encircling her hatchlings, the broad-headed skink silently guarding her eggs in the dark.

And as difficult as it is to stand witness to another’s grieving, it comforts me to be reminded of the universality of grief, to remember that we are not alone in our suffering, or in where we look for solace. I think of Rosamund Young’s delightful memoir, “The Secret Life of Cows,” and her story of the grieving young mother who sought her own mother for comfort, from three fields away, after the stillbirth of her calf. I think of the orca carrying her dead calf for 17 days, across a thousand miles of ocean, because she could not bear to let the baby go. (Last fall she gave birth again, this time to an apparently healthy calf.)  . . . . “

DL:  Thank you Margaret Renkl.   There are also  189 comments, many of which are extraordinary.

Michelle Cottle | Biden Underpromises, Overdelivers – The New York Times

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/27/opinion/biden-100-days.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage

Ms. Cottle is a member of the editorial board.

“Like any employee, President Biden has to suffer through periodic performance reviews. Thursday marks his 100th day in office — a time-honored if vaguely arbitrary milestone at which a president’s early moves are sliced, diced and spun for all the world to judge. How many bills has he gotten passed? Whom has he appointed? How many executive orders has he signed? Which promises has he broken? Which constituencies has he ticked off?

Mr. Biden took office under extraordinary circumstances, with the nation confronting what he has called a quartet of “converging crises”: a lethal pandemic, economic uncertainty, climate change and racial injustice. Bold policy action was needed. So, too, was an effort to neutralize the toxic politics of the Trump era — which, among other damage, spawned a large reality-free zone in which the bulk of Republicans buy the lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.

All of which feels like a lot for one mild-mannered 78-year-old to tackle in his first three or so months. Then again, Mr. Biden is built to keep chugging along in the face of adversity, tragedy and lousy odds. That’s how he rolls. And while his first 100 days have been far from flawless, they reflect a clear understanding of why he was elected and what the American people now expect of him.

The president moved fast and went big on his signature challenge: confronting the one-two public-health-and-economic punch of the pandemic. He asked Congress for a $1.9 trillion relief package, and Congress basically gave him a $1.9 trillion relief package. Did Republican lawmakers sign on? No, they did not. But the ambitious bill — which went so far as to establish a (temporary) guaranteed income for families with children — drew strong bipartisan support from the public. That was good enough for the White House.  . . . “

David Brooks | Wisdom Isn’t What You Think It Is – The New York Times

” . . . When I think of the wise people in my own life, they are like that. It’s not the life-altering words of wisdom that drop from their lips, it’s the way they receive others. Too often the public depictions of wisdom involve remote, elderly sages who you approach with trepidation — and who give the perfect life-altering advice — Yoda, Dumbledore, Solomon. When a group of influential academics sought to define wisdom, they focused on how much knowledge a wise person had accumulated. Wisdom, they wrote, was “an expert knowledge system concerning the fundamental pragmatics of life.”

But when wisdom has shown up in my life, it’s been less a body of knowledge and more a way of interacting, less the dropping of secret information, more a way of relating that helped me stumble to my own realizations.

Wisdom is different from knowledge. Montaigne pointed out you can be knowledgeable with another person’s knowledge, but you can’t be wise with another person’s wisdom. Wisdom has an embodied moral element; out of your own moments of suffering comes a compassionate regard for the frailty of others.

Wise people don’t tell us what to do, they start by witnessing our story. They take the anecdotes, rationalizations and episodes we tell, and see us in a noble struggle. They see our narratives both from the inside, as we experience them, and from the outside, as we can’t. They see the ways we’re navigating the dialectics of life — intimacy versus independence, control versus uncertainty — and understand that our current self is just where we are right now, part of a long continuum of growth.

I have a friend, Kate Bowler, who teaches at Duke and learned at age 35 that she had stage IV cancer. In real life, and on her podcast, “Everything Happens,” I have seen her use her story again and again as a platform to let others frame their best story. Her confrontation with early death, and her alternating sad and hilarious responses to it, draws out a kind of candor in others. She models a vulnerability, and a focus on the big issues, and helps people understand where they are now.

People only change after they’ve felt understood. The really good confidants — the people we go to for wisdom — are more like story editors than sages. They take in your story, accept it, but prod you to reconsider it so you can change your relationship to your past and future. They ask you to clarify what it is you really want, or what baggage you left out of your clean tale. They ask you to probe for the deep problem that underlies the convenient surface problem you’ve come to them with.

It is this skillful, patient process of walking people to their own conclusions that feels like wisdom; maybe that’s why Aristotle called ethics a “social practice.”   . . . “

Margaret Renkl | It’s Thanksgiving. Come On Home. – The New York Times

Credit…Ellen Surrey

“NASHVILLE — I thought I had escaped the beautiful, benighted South for good when I left Alabama for graduate school in Philadelphia in 1984, though now I can’t imagine how that delusion ever took root. At the age of 22, I had never set foot any farther north than Chattanooga, Tenn. I was so poorly traveled — and so geographically illiterate — I could not pick out the state of Pennsylvania on an unlabeled weather map on the evening news.

When I tell people, if it ever comes up, that I once spent a semester in Philadelphia, a knot instantly forms in the back of my throat, an echo of the panic and despair I felt with every step I took on those unfamiliar sidewalks, with every breath of that heavy, exhaust-burdened air. In August I moved into a walk-up on a main artery of West Philly, and I lay awake that first sweltering night with the windows open to catch what passed for a breeze, waiting for the unfamiliar sounds of traffic to die down. They never did. All night long, the gears of delivery trucks ground at the traffic light on the corner; four floors down, strangers muttered and swore in the darkness.

All around me were metaphors for my own dislocation: a homeless woman squatting in the grocery-store parking lot, indifferent to the puddle spreading below her; the sparrows and pigeons, all sepia and brown, that replaced the scolding blue jays and scarlet cardinals I’d left behind; even the first deep snow, which all my life I had longed to see, was flecked with soot when it finally arrived. I was so homesick for the natural world that I tamed a mouse who lived in my wall, placing stale Cheetos on the floor beyond me, just to feel the creature’s delicate feet skittering across my own bare toes.

Winter break came so early in December that it made no sense to go home for Thanksgiving, no matter how homesick I was. But as the dark nights grew longer and the cold winds blew colder, I wavered. Was it too late? Could I still change my mind?

It was definitely too late. Of course. It was far, far too late. And I had papers to write. I had papers to grade. Also, I had no car, and forget booking a plane ticket so close to the holiday, even if I’d had money to spare for it, which on my graduate student’s stipend I most certainly did not. Amtrak was sold out, and the long, long bus ride seemed too daunting. I would be spending Thanksgiving in Philadelphia, a thousand miles from home.

“I don’t think I can stand it here,” I said during the weekly call to my parents that Sunday. “I don’t know if I can do this.”

“Just come home,” my father said. I was crying by then. “It’s too late,” I said. “It’s way too late.”

“You can always come home, Sweet,” he said. “Even if you marry a bastard, you can always come on home.”

Margaret Renkl | Thank God for the Poets – The New York Times

Ms. Renkl is a contributing opinion writer who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South

NASHVILLE — When the poet Amanda Gorman stepped to the lectern at President Biden’s inauguration, she faced a much-diminished crowd of masked people on the National Mall, but she was speaking directly to the heart of a bruised nation:

Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew,
That even as we hurt, we hoped,
That even as we tired, we tried.

Ms. Gorman’s poem — addressed to “Americans, and the World” — was timeless in that way of the most necessary poems, but it was more than just timeless. After a year of losses both literal and figurative, she offered a salve that soothed, however briefly, our broken hearts and our broken age.

Poets have always given voice to our losses at times of national calamity. Walt Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” is an elegy for Abraham Lincoln. Langston Hughes’s “Mississippi — 1955” came in direct response to the murder of Emmett Till. Denise Levertov wrote one poem after another after another to protest the war in Vietnam. In 2002, Billy Collins delivered a memorial poem for the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks before a special joint meeting of Congress.

The poems inspired by Black Lives Matter are almost too numerous to count, and their ranks continue to grow, in spite of the personal cost of “chasing words / like arrows inside the knotted meat between my / shoulder blades,” as Tiana Clark writes in “Nashville.” ”  . . .

Opinion | The Death Cleaner – The New York Times

Video by Louise Monlaü      Ms. Monlaü is a documentary filmmaker.

“Death is Donovan Tavera’s business. For nearly 20 years, Tavera has been a forensic cleaner in Mexico City, providing families of the deceased with the solace of a clean home. For mourning families, his services become integral to their healing process. The short documentary above, filmed before the pandemic, considers what it means to wash away what’s left after someone dies.”

Allan McDonald Dies at 83; Tried to Stop the Challenger Launch – The New York Times

“Allan J. McDonald, an engineer who on a chilly January morning in 1986 tried to stop the launch of the Challenger space shuttle, citing the possible effect of the cold on its booster rockets, and who, after it broke apart on liftoff, blew the whistle when government officials tried to cover up his dissent, died on Saturday in Ogden, Utah. He was 83.

The cause was complications of a recent fall, his daughter Meghan McDonald Goggin said.

Mr. McDonald was a 26-year veteran at Morton Thiokol, the contractor responsible for the shuttle’s booster rockets, when he arrived at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida a few days before Jan. 28, when the Challenger was to take off.

The mission was to be the first to carry a civilian into space, a teacher named Christa McAuliffe. President Ronald Reagan was planning to mark that milestone in his State of the Union address, coincidentally scheduled for the same day as the launch.

But Mr. McDonald, who ran the company’s booster-rocket program, had strong reservations about moving ahead with the launch. The shuttle’s rockets contained a series of rubber O-ring gaskets, and he worried that low temperatures could cause them to stiffen, allowing fuel to escape and potentially causing the rocket to explode.”

Nicholas Kristof | How to Reach People Who Are Wrong – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

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Credit…Mark Peterson/Redux

“The Trump years were a time of high passion, of moral certainty, of drawing lines in the sand, of despair at the ethical and intellectual vacuity of political foes. But now it’s time to recalibrate.

From my liberal point of view, Democrats were largely vindicated. From the Muslim ban to the separation of families at the border, from the mishandling of the pandemic to the Capitol insurrection, Democrats’ warnings aged well. Yet one of the perils in life is being proven right.

The risk is excessive admiration for one’s own brilliance, preening at one’s own righteousness, and inordinate scorn for the jerks on the other side. It was the Republicans’ hubris after the 1991 gulf war — won in 100 hours — that led the G.O.P. to march obliviously into the catastrophic Iraq war a dozen years later.

Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at Wharton, has a smart new book out advising us to “Think Again,” in the words of his title. He explores in part what goes wrong when smart people are too righteous, and he offers a paean to intellectual humility.” . . .

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
This is a lovely and thoughful piece, thank you Nicholas Kristof. It goes hand in hand with the piece today by Ezra Klien, on how successful Joe Biden has been by keeping a low profile, and making the work about helping Americans in need, rather than about himself or his tribe. We will have to remain humble and open, while organizing to defeat our fearful and dangerous and unscrupulous fellow Americans at the polls, so we don’t have to face a second civil war.

Opinion | Inside a Covid I.C.U., Through a Nurse’s Eyes – The New York Times

“The short film above allows you to experience the brutality of the pandemic from the perspective of nurses inside a Covid-19 intensive care unit.

Opinion Video producer Alexander Stockton spent several days reporting at the Valleywise Medical Center in Phoenix. Two I.C.U. nurses wore cameras to show what it’s like to care for the sickest Covid patients a year into the pandemic.

So many Americans have died in hospitals without family by their side, but they were not alone. Nurses brush patients’ teeth, change their catheters and hold their hands in their final moments.” . . .