Which Way To Go?

Watching from the sidelines this meltdown, this monument to bureaucracy, this wolf in sheep’s clothing and, perhaps vice-versa, is disheartening. I don’t know whether I’m for or against what is referred to as “the bailout.” I’m convinced most people don’t know either.

It’s a short term fix for a long term problem, that’s true. But, it may just firm up credit markets and allow people a chance to make some investment decisions that would ultimately bring the markets back up. Tomorrow is a new day. But how many of you reading this actually know what is happening?

Both of my brothers are smart guys. They are against the “bailout” which, again, isn’t really a bailout. Their reasons are sound and they make a lot of sense. The short version is this: The markets that were created by lending everybody and his brother money to buy a house were artificial and therefore not valid. That has proved true. Whatever your opinion, the simple fact is that there was a push around 1999 to allow everyone in the U.S. the opportunity to buy a house. Now that wasn’t the Republicans pushing that, but face it—many of them signed on to it and agreed with it.

But Hugh Hewitt, Michael Medved--they’re for it. They’re smart guys, too. Steve Forbes is for it. He’s a smart guy. The old left-right continuum is giving way. Rush Limbaugh is against it. So are many Democrats–so are a majority of the American people.

The result is, the housing market went through its very normal curve where prices go down–but when they went down this time, people who’d purchased a home since around 2003 had no money. Interest rates changed, prices went through the floor and there was nothing left. What next? Well–the mortgages were priced into securities and sold and that paper was no longer good because a lot of “average Americans” making 60-80K a year were purchasing half million dollar homes and higher. Well, do the math, OK?

So….the piper came calling and now, we’re all in the crapper. So–what’s left, eh? I hate to be a downer, but if only to read this 20 years from now and point it out: I’m no economist, I don’t get the entire perspective of what’s going to happen economically. I really don’t. I think depression is possible. I also think it’s possible that we’ll turn it around in the next couple of years and the ingenuity of the American people will pick us back up. I don’t know.

I am, though, a student of history. While I make no expert claims and and swear to no absolute outcomes, I do know this: History records that in times of economic uncertainty, the world goes through radical, uncomfortable and frightening change. This is the way it is. It’s why I lose patience with my conservative bretheren on their condemnation of FDR. Yes, the depression of the 30’s did result in more govt. interference that may have done some harm–it doesn’t matter, that’s missing the point. The point is that no matter what FDR did domestically, it would not have stopped Adolf Hitler. Time was on Hitler’s side. If FDR had left the economy to recover itself, Hitler would still have been on the march. Maybe our economic engine would have been stronger–but even Amity Shlaes admits that it wouldn’t have righted itself by 1939.

My point, gentles, is this. If our do-nothing Congress and our spoiled population do nothing at all to right this situation and the world slips into a recession or even a depression, money will be the last of our problems. Tyrants, terrorists and tactics will be our bane–and it will probably end any kind of depression, provided that we are able to move our forces in a timely manner.

Recession, depression–economic uncertainty…mean one thing: War. And that’s what history teaches us. I hope I’m wrong.

Hamlet

History will record this as a time of fat, lazy and slothful fecklessness in the U.S. She will not remember fondly the eve before the great financial collapse that sent the world into a nose-dive and its economies spiraling out of control. She will look upon names like Bush, McCain, Kerry and Obama as names of men who tried what they thought would work but in the end, were ignorant of the forces playing against them.

She will also record, sadly, the rise of names like Al-Qaeda and Putin, Ahmadinejad and Assad. She will record how Israel, sent against the ropes, will have had to nearly single-handedly defeat regimes throughout the Middle-East. Again. In fact, it will be Israel that will be the new beacon of freedom, the new light of hope. The rest of the world sat foolishly by, marinating in their multi-cultural beliefs and their hopeful socialist medicine and finances as the rest of the tyrants smiled, turned to their comrades and revved up the tank engines.

Economies will collapse, markets will shrink, jobs will be lost, and the Hamlets in Congress will wring their hands because they didn’t know what to do. They will forget that adage that sometimes, bold action is better than no action at all. And in forgetting, their opponents will see them as weak, frail and unable to fight back. They will challenge the free country’s stand across the world and they will beat back its allies, frail, fragile and infirm that they are–the last guardians on an outpost abandoned long ago.

The cold wind is blowing–history is being written now, even now. And all of our petty fiefdoms are wrapped up inside of us and we are ignoring the large picture, the real world. We’re all convinced that technology and cell phones will save us, that progress is inertia and that we will never stop moving forward. We forget the cruel lessons of history–that forward progress means a wheel is somewhere inexorably rolling forward and we are running to stay out of its way. Every so often, we are caught under the wheel, under our hubris, our arrogance for the way things should be. We ignore that freedom comes at a price and our peril is that we, rather consistently, assume that we are on the high road when we say we shouldn’t fight–cannot fight. Violence is not the answer…..To us.

But it is the answer to others and they will use it when they sense our weakness. That weakness is already upon us and it’s already softening our bones, flailing our flesh and punishing us. It is, of course, up to us to see it. But we will not. The forces of darkness, of totalitarianism, of facism and communism combined, of anti-free trade and anti-freedom–are on the march. They are a gathering storm and what do we have to defeat them? A few umbrellas.

John McCain and Barack Obama? No–neither of them is capable of dealing with these storms. Yes, I think that probably McCain would be a better choice. Yes, I think that as the old warrior he is, he will certainly be willing to stand up to these forces. But, in the end–he will have behind him the Hamlet Congress and a nation of people who simply want to be left alone to do their thing.

Their thing, however, will disappear under the weight of double digit unemployment, skyrocketing prices, energy unavailability and other such mundane issues that we ignored. We are all Hamlet now–we want to think our way through this, to feel what’s right and what’s wrong. We want to blame and say how superior we are for being right.

And we’re doing nothing. It will, in the end, be our undoing.

Is there still time to turn away from this path? Yes. We could choose a different way. We could choose optimism and free markets and we could choose to fight off the tyrants. The blood and treasure we spend now would be nothing next to what will be spent to “avoid open war.” But, will we?

Will we?

Bail Out Bandying

I’m simply hooked on the bailout plan. I don’t know what else is worth watching right now because it seems time is standing still until some kind of decision is made.

I’ll be honest, I’ve listened to and read both sides. I’m absolutely no expert, and really I’m a neophyte when it comes to such stuff. But the bottom line here is this: Markets react to emotions and that’s sad. Still, if nothing is done, this market will come crashing down around our ears and it won’t be the “Wall Street bigwigs” who pay. It’ll be you and me, folks who have 403b’s and 401k’s and the rest of it and we will be hosed. So, if you’re harboring some kind of “why should we bail out Wall Street?” question, rest assured–we’re not. We’re bailing out Main street. Now that’s worth debating and as I said, I don’t have the answers. Finance is way beyond me, like Astro-physics or Plane geometry. Either way, though, we are in a bad place right now and if we don’t do something soon–whatever that something may be, the market will crash hard. And we’ll all be in a world of hurt. There are more than 150 million people invested in the stock market in this country and we will be the ones who suffer most.

Meanwhile, I’m on a couple of hard stories for the newspaper and still trying to drum up some more marketing business. The newspaper has me covering a major city renovation and writing about an event that is going to happen Sunday, which I cannot attend, but need to write about it as though it happened because the piece will run on Monday. I cannot pretend, of course, that I attended the event–so I have to find the proper angle. I think I have, but we shall soon see. It’ll look something like this:

“The Widget Organization has been spending the past few years raising funds to continue the facelift on its 130 year old building. To that end, it held its second annual Oktoberfest celebration on Sunday…”

You get the jist, I think.

Wine blogging to begin soon: We go tomorrow afternoon to prepare the equipment and on Saturday morning, Brian, Ron and I will head to Paso Robles to pick up 900 pounds of Cabernet Sauvignon and 600 pounds of Zinfandel. Woo hoo! I’ll have pics as well as all the pertinent particluars. Much more fun that talking about finances.

Egad.

Events being what they are…

Yes, indeed the Decanter piece was scrubbed. Lots of estimates from lots of important people, but no one really has direct facts on how much money online wine sales represents right now. What I need for the piece is cold hard facts. If you happen to have any, I’d appreciate a note, please contact me here.

The President sounded the right note tonight, but it remains to be seen whether or not Congress will act. I believe they will and I believe we will get through this mess, though it will be a while and with a lot of pain. I’m still convinced that this bail out is the only thing left to us to do. I don’t think that’s a good thing, but I do think that since the country is quite literally built on the back of working America, the failure of those investments on Wall Street would create a panic that would indeed resemble the Great Depression. Job losses would be staggering and foreclosures would represent a massive part of of the economy. People like me, who are upside down in their mortgages but for now can afford the house and have no intention of defaulting, would be left to simply walk away from a home that now costs less than they owe. I really hope the pinheads in the Hill get that.

Though it’s true I am a capitalist and by that I mean I believe that people should be able to make as much as they want to make, legally, and live the lives they’ve imagined creating lives for themselves that they’ve fashioned–I do think that simple greed fed this mess. There are a bunch of us, and I count myself among them, who simply bought houses we knew we couldn’t afford and since credit was loose and money cheap, there were plenty of people willing to lend it to us. Lend they did–and now, I have a house worth far less than I paid for it with no sign of it climbing back up any time real soon. Well, fine. I’m actually OK with that. You have to live somewhere and so here I am and, barring unforeseen events, will stay for at least the next 10-15 years. So, OK. But should things fall apart, hell in a handbasket and all that–all bets are off, yes?

Finished some marketing work and continue to look for more. I enjoy this type of work a great deal. Writing copy for companies is a real challenge and it’s also a lot of fun. I hope I can find more of it. Once again, if you’re reading this and have a small company or know someone that does who needs brochures, articles, web text, shelf-talkers or other such items, I’m your man.

Whew

Here it is Tuesday night and I’ve not posted since Saturday. Why, may one ask? Yes, one may. Well, I’m blessed. I’m honored. I’m….busy.

I’ve been inundated with writing work and every day, I open the e-mail to find a new assignment. It’s the best doggone thing in the world. No, it won’t replace the teaching salary and benefits, but it does augment things nicely. Especially now. And the now needs some reasoning and I turn you to my friend Jason for that. He knows more than I.

While I’m basically a conservative, even at times Libertarian on issues, I’m not sure anyone can be now with the financial situation. I think Hewitt has it right: Markets are generally rational and I’m a capitalist. But markets are also people and people can be irrational and that is what we have here. If this bailout doesn’t work or doesn’t happen–we’re in for a hell of a ride and we’re talking the dark days of the 30’s folks. Al Qaeda won’t have to do anything to our economy. It’ll do it to itself. And, in the end, it probably is too much regulation that got us here, but it’s also a lot of other things, too–including a good deal of greed brought on by sheisters who sold bad mortgages. It ain’t right. It’s a mess–and it’s not going to get cleaned up by leaving it alone. That’s my take, anyway. And you’re welcome to respond–I just lack the real understanding of the economic engine to go into real deep detail. I’ve read enough to state what I state here and when you get right down to it, what I stated was, “There’s too much regulation–and there’s no enough.” Hedging my bets, I guess.

Egad.

UPDATE: The story was scrubbed. I didn’t have enough facts. I’m working on getting more.
Well, enough of that. I’ve been able to do some wine writing and I have a second piece up at Decanter.com—follow the link. I’m pretty excited about it because, to be honest, Decanter is one of the big hitters in wine journalism. So…I got that going for me.

I’m also doing some local marketing writing which is great. I get to write about local businesses for industry publications, the kind you won’t read on newsstands, and it’s a blast. I love working with small business owners. I think they are indeed the lifeblood of the country and having had the honor to work with two clients, now–I can honestly say it’s an absolute blast. And a privilege.

Yes, I’m still teaching. Yes, I’m still walking the dog. Hey, I’ve lost 12 pounds. All sorts of random goodness. Stay tuned for winemaking blog 2. This year it’s Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. Mmmmm….yummy, fruit forward wine goodness.

OK. ‘Nuff said.

Out here

The sunshine today was relentless as the warmth of the afternoon grew into a breezy, friendly and comfortable day. There was heat from the sun, but a persistent cool breeze poured in from the coast while wisps of clouds flew by.

By now, it’s not uncommon for us to have Santa Ana winds and heat and dry with fires burning all over the state. We’re fortunate. It’s now the last third of September and we have not yet had that pattern. This is not to say we won’t, of course, it’s just a basic celebration of the fact that we have not yet done so.

It was a day as magical as the weather, too. Peanut’s soccer game was simply delightful and the teams were very well matched. So much so, that the score was 1-o in our favor. Peanut played goalie today and may well have found her calling. She was excellent in the position and knew what was expected of her. She did it without fail, allowing not one ball to cross the dreaded line and kicking or throwing the ball out like a master. It was very impressive.

This evening, one of Peanut’s best friends came over to the house along with her parents, Larry and Jody, both of whom we really like. We had a good time with some excellent bbq and a few glasses of wine and the family are delightful to talk to. We were joined by Sue’s and Laurie’s brother, Herb and his daughter Noelle who are here visiting from Fresno.

We’re wound down, now–but I’ve got to pick back up. Decanter has gifted me another story to write for their website and it’s a fairly complicated story that I have to distill down to about 300 words. Meanwhile, I am writing some marketing copy for a local business with whom I’m working (through the aforementioned Larry, as it happens), and I’m pretty tired to boot.

So, if Friday was happy–Saturday is as much so.

Happy Friday!

I awoke not too long ago here on the couch, sprawled out in a relatively uncomfortable position for my sore neck. I got myself squared away nicely, straightened out my spinal cord and went back to sleep while Peanut watched a little later-than-usual Disney channel. It’s Friday after all.

She’s growing older, adapting to second grade, becoming more responsible. Yesterday, she wanted to go to Target. I asked her why she wanted to go there. She said she wanted to spend some of the money she’d earned this summer at the lemonade stand she and her friend Maddy set up (with Mom’s help.). Each of them made more than 12.00 dollars and added to money she’s been saving, she had nearly 30.00 dollars. When we got to Target, she found what she wanted pretty quickly. They had these nice little animal figurines, with exacting detail, and she picked out three. “Sofie likes lions,” she said.

“How do you know,” her mom asked her.

“She told me she did when she was here.” Sofie. We miss her. We think of her often and we truly want to see her again. Peanut misses her so much, she used her money to buy herself a beautiful figurine of a Clydesdale horse and she bought Sofie a male and female lion. Sorry, Sof–if you read this, you will be receiving them soon. Act surprised, will you?

The fact that my 7-year old took her own money and thought to buy something for someone else, someone who means so much to her, is simply too much to hope for. She’s smart, yeah. She’s getting tougher. She’s funny and she’s curious. But, and this is the part that has me so wonderfully happy, she’s genuinely compassionate and concerned. She thinks about making people happy and she considers it worth her time, her effort and her work–to give things to other people.

If she never passed another test again as long as she lived–at least I’d have raised a child who was concerned about others. Amen.

Two Jobs-no waiting

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted and I wish I had a great reason why. I have been very busy–the other night, cranking out over 2500 words on a couple of articles. But I still should have tried to make time. I’ve essentially been working two full-time jobs and I’m bodily tired with a hint of exhaustion.

Meanwhile, while the second job keeps my mind from dwelling too much on the inherent irony of what’s happening in school, I cannot ignore it completely. Teaching high school English doesn’t lend itself to the one-size fits all program that the state, the district and the Feds all want. You use literature to teach standards but you can still teach the standards using various types of literature. If, on the other hand, you’re teaching geometry–well, that’s what you teach. I suppose you can use different equations, but it’s all the same. However, you can teach dramatic irony whether you’re using Shakespeare or Arthur Miller. You can teach tone with Edgar Allen Poe or Zora Neale Hurston.

But, the powers that be still don’t get that. We tried to explain-but it doesn’t seem to be working. We’re to be in “lock step.” Teach the same stuff at the same time and use the same tests (or at least the same criteria) to grade the kids.

So, I’m trying to keep my focus on the one thing which is my family and the writing–but as a professional educator, I cannot help but point out the weirdness of it. We spent the first couple of hours discussing different personality types and how individuals respond in certain situations. Then, we spent the next hour and a half discussing how to get every single kid, no matter what their personality, to pass the same test, the same way, at the same time. What gives? Talk about irony.

So, my usual pithy prose is punctuated this evening–I’ve dozed off twice since I started writing this and I still have an article to write. I shall update more saliently this weekend.

Not so much a let down

I got the bad news today and it didn’t hit me as hard as I thought that it would. The project that must not be named is no more. I failed to pass the second section with a degree of alacrity that they would have liked. So, what was it? I was seeking to become the new About.com guide to William Shakespeare. In my rejection letter, the editor commented that they were very fond of my writing and that I “obviously had a vast knowledge of the subject,” but in the end it wasn’t enough. I understand….

I guess.

What they’re really looking for is not so much a freelance writer as a freelance tech guy. I found that good writing is useful, but if you go to About.com, it’s not their stock-in-trade. That’s reserved for people who know how to use HTML and oh yeah, can string a couple of sentences together.

But I’m not bitter.

Onward, I say. All seems rather trivial when one considers this. It happened on a train line that my family and I have ridden a number of times. The crash itself took place in the sloping hills outside of the Chatsworth train station. That’s the last station in the San Fernando Valley as the Metrolink, Amtrak and Union Pacific lines travel northwest and cross the county line in a tunnel through the hills north of Rocky Peak in Simi Valley.

25 died. I have friends that have been touched by the incident. Two members of a local church that some of our high school teachers go to were killed. It was in all ways and by every definition a true tragedy.

And when I put into context that I’ve ridden that train, on that line and so has my wife and my child, somehow a rejection letter, one of literally hundreds I’ve received over the years, doesn’t seem so important.

Brian Wilson

It’s been a few days. I’ve been blessedly swamped with a lot of work and had to get some of it done. I’m not out of the woods yet, though. I still have some marketing copy to write tonight and another article tomorrow. Once again, no complaining–just pointing it out.

If Shakespeare is in the air, as it were, then so is Brian Wilson. The Beach Boys are American pop music and their songs pervade everything and certainly are an icon and the soundtrack to Southern California where I’ve lived most of my life.

That’s why going to see the aforementioned Mr. Wilson at the Hollywood Bowl last evening was such a treat. Everyone knows that the Wilson family suffered terrible tragedies when Dennis and Carl, Brian’s brothers and together three-fifths of The Beach Boys, died prematurely. As time went on, Brian too went through a great deal of heartache and pain and as he himself says, he went crazy. He was unable to write, unable to perform, stuck with dreadful stage-fright which still haunts him to this day. At 65 and after years of therapy, medication of both the legal and illegal kinds, I’m sure, Brian Wilson is still writing beautiful and moving music.

The concert started off with the L.A. Philharmonic playing a bit of Mozart, a bit of Bach and some Gershwin. Then, Mr. Wilson came out on stage and played a couple of numbers from his new album which were beautifully dark, as befits the journey that Wilson seems to have taken in the past few years, and then California Girls-at which point, he walked off the stage for an intermission.

When he came back, Mr. Wilson and his 11 piece band returned without the Philharmonic and played for the next hour and a half and while his voice, persona and physique have diminished a good deal, he hasn’t missed a trick when it comes to the music. He was fully aware of his limitations and the band he employed to play with him was extraordinary at putting those pieces back together. With a soft blend of Beach Boys’ classics and some of Mr. Wilson’s new material, the concert was a high energy and spirited performance, even though Mr. Wilson sat down behind a keyboard for nearly the entire show.

His solo numbers were haunting, particularly the last song of the evening called Southern California in which Mr. Wilson reminisces in a dream about singing in harmony with his brothers and waking up in Southern California to the sounds of the surf, sand and sun. When he awakes from the dream, reality sets in and he’s left believing it happened–once upon a time. It was a moving tribute to Carl and Dennis and Mr. Wilson’s past that was never too sentimental, never too syrupy. Instead, it was a sweet tribute, as much to himself as to his family.

Mr. Wilson has become one of his idols-a sort of modern day George Gershwin with a pulse in popular music and melody. At one point, he and the band sang a capella a song which Mr. Wilson described as “a prayer.” No lyrics, but plenty of Beach boy-esque harmony that went up to God as wonderfully, as sweetly as incense.

When he introduced Sloop John B., I thought I would cry. Always one of my favorite songs, let alone favorite Beach Boy songs, the band pulled it off almost more beautifully than the original.

Mr. Wilson proved last night that pop music is now in our blood as much as Gershwin or Shakespeare or The Gettysburg Address and while he was at it, he proved that it is a serious artistic force. But he also proved that to take it too seriously is to miss the point. Sentimental without sentimentality, emotional without dripping the emotions–Mr. Wilson and his band were moved by the spirit and that spirit was uniquely American, uniquely soulful and uniquely brilliant.