Sunday, November 23, 2008

View From Ground Zero

Tip O' The Tinfoil Hat to My Friends at Blondesense

They had a very good thread the other day around this beautiful song, by Paul Simon. I've been lucky enough to work for him a few times. Not enough on account of he's a New York City type to the bone, and I'm allergic to the entire east coast, but the times we've been together have been incredible.

I was able to tell him about how he completely disrupted my world when he released Graceland. I had to walk into my house full of instruments and shake my head in amazement and tell them "OK folks, we're starting over." The injection of the African players and arrangements, using the bass guitar as a melody instrument, placing the rhythm chops on the accordian, the astonishing rythmic nuance and harmony, all changed the way I approached my own playing.

Over and over in the music business I have heard the old refrain of "It's all over, because they invented. . ." The stuff they have said about Napster and Peer to Peer systems destroying music is the same stuff they said about CD recorders, Cassette tapes, Reel to Reel tape systems for the home, vinyl records, and even the wax and foil cylinders of Edison. Everything that advanced the technology was going to "end music as a business or profession." None of it did. Things changed, that's all.

I'm in the middle of change myself. I'm having to do some serious financial reorganization. It galls me. Not because I am opposed to change. My life is better because I made the decision to change not only my life, but the fundamental ways that I look at and approach my life. I did it by getting clean and sober through AA almost seventeen years ago. Not only do I know how to change and adapt, I know that it is something that often must be done.

What galls me is that this is being forced upon me because I played by the rules. The foundation of my investment is in commercial real estate. Most of that around San Diego. I wasn't one of the wild eyed speculators who leveraged and mortgaged myself to the hilt. I did it slow and steady. I invested in viable properties, with solid businesses in them. When profits were high I would do things like resurface the parking lot, or put in greener infrastructure like solar panels and things to make the place more sustainable and profitable.

The foundation of the whole system was in equity and sound business. That equity has disappeared. Poof! Vanished. Gone. Maybe forever. Nobody knows. What is certain is that value and worth that I invested in believing it to be conservative, prudent, and sound has evaporated as surely as the blips and pixels of the wildest crackhead Wall Street suits. Gone. All. Gone.

Normally, in a situation of temporary downturn it would be a simple thing to take some of that equity, use it to raise some temporary cash and weather the storm. That's changed. Not only has the majority share of the equity been magicked away, nobody's lending on the weather the storm basis. They don't know how bad this storm is going to be yet.

Frankly, if instead of trying to be a good steward who built wealth on a solid, stable and enduring platform, I had instead flashed blips and pixels around the internet on wild ass schemes that made the boom look sedate I would have been better off. If I had been a grasping gimme it now greedy son of a bitch who cashed out at every opportunity and stashed the loot offshore I would be in fine shape right now.

That's the galling thing, I'm in trouble because I believed and followed the rules. There's another front that taking place too. San Diego is trying to reconstitute its government after nearly a decade of corruption and looting. Yes, it was done by a series of republican mayors and city council members. They wrote in hefty, rich pensions for themselves and their cronies that were vested in as short as three months. Then, they all cashed out bigtime. At one point the city bonds of San Diego (and normally munis are another investment that is considered to be sound and safe) were downgraded to nearly junk levels. They stole so much upsteam that there was barely enough flow to make mud in the delta. Just like our national, and world economy, the bills came due and there wasn't anything left to pay them with. After wild fantasy games of the rich and famous, reality came to call, and reality is hungry and has teeth.

Now San Diego is having to raise cash for day to day operations. Properties like mine are ripe for governmental takings. I'm not mortgaged to the hilt so there is a strong profit motive to the takers. If my property was taken the takers wouldn't have to share with mortgage bankers and investment types. The margin of say, yet one more property assessment or another increase in trash, and other utility services would be small compared to the value of the siezed property. The very good and sound practices that made me vulnerable to this, are also what make it even more attractive to the vultures. There's a lot of flesh on the bones, all they have to do is manage the death of a thousands cuts and then all the scavengers get to feed.

I'm in the process of writing a long series about Afghanistan. I intend to focus on Alexander the Great and his three year campaign there. We'll start with Epaminondas, because he was the general who, more than anyone else, taught Philip of Macedon. Then, we'll talk about Philip, because without him and the innovations he brought one really cannot understand the revolutionary innovations of Alexander. We'll also talk about Darius and Cyrus of Persia, we'll spend some time with "Chinese" Gordon, Kublai Khan and the Russians. What I hope to demonstrate with this is that we are about to barge into making the exact same mistakes that conquerors and invaders have met in Afghanistan for the last 2,500 years.

Here's the lyrics to Paul's great song. I've been singing it a lot lately.

Words & music by Paul Simon

Many's the time I've been mistaken
And many times confused
Yes, and I've often felt forsaken
And certainly misused
Oh, but I'm all right, I'm all right
I'm just weary to my bones
Still, you don't expect to be
Bright and bon vivant
So far away from home, so far away from home

And I don't know a soul who's not been battered
I don't have a friend who feels at ease
I don't know a dream that's not been shattered
or driven to its knees
but it's all right, it's all right
for we lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the
road we're traveling on
I wonder what's gone wrong
I can't help it, I wonder what's gone wrong

And I dreamed I was dying
I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly
And looking back down at me
Smiled reassuringly
And I dreamed I was flying
And high up above my eyes could clearly see
The Statue of Liberty
Sailing away to sea
And I dreamed I was flying

We come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age's most uncertain hours
and sing an American tune
Oh, and it's alright, it's all right, it's all right
You can't be forever blessed
Still, tomorrow's going to be another working day
And I'm trying to get some rest
That's all I'm trying to get some rest

It's alright, I'm alright.

How 'bout you? Commence the open thread.